By Michael Murillo
Habitat For Humanity (HFH), the non-profit Christian Housing Ministry with a local branch that has built and renovated 100 homes in places like Dade City, Crystal Springs, Zephyrhills and Land O’Lakes, has created a home ownership model for struggling families and stable, safe environments for children.
By this time next year, Wesley Chapel will be added to that list of Pasco Habitat locales.
“I am very excited about Habitat For Humanity building a home in Wesley Chapel in 2013,” says director of development and public relations for Habitat for Humanity of East & Central Pasco County Stephanie Black. “The family that will be purchasing this Habitat home currently lives, works, and goes to school in the area.”
The 1,100-sq.-ft. house isn’t designed to be fancy. But, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, the wood-frame home, which will be constructed next to the Shops at Wiregrass mall before being transported to the Angus Valley neighborhood of Wesley Chapel by around May of next year, will be a dream come true for a needy local family.
The local office is just one of more than 1,500 HFH affiliates in the U.S. — with an additional 550 participating in other parts of the world. HFH has built and renovated more than 500,000 homes for families in need of decent, affordable housing in 3,000 communities around the world since it was founded in 1976.
Recipients are selected based on their level of need, willingness to participate in the program and ability to meet the terms of their mortgage; neither race nor religion is factored into the decision-making process.
Black estimates that as many as one in six Americans are currently in need of stable, affordable housing. That would translate to thousands of needy residents in eastern and central Pasco County, and HFH can only make a small dent in that number: The Pasco chapter built or rehabilitated a dozen homes in its last fiscal year.
Shopping For A Cause
The local chapter’s goal is to increase that to 20 homes in the current fiscal year, but the organization also impacts thousands of residents when they shop at one of the Habitat ReStores. With locations in Zephyrhills and Dade City, more than 45,000 people each year take advantage of the local stores, which sell heavily-discounted building materials and household goods that have been donated new or slightly used. In turn, those proceeds go toward building and rehabilitating more homes in the area.
While providing a homeownership opportunity is obviously good for the family receiving it, Black explained that it also impacts the general community in a positive way.
“Owner-occupied housing has a beneficial effect on the local economy by increasing consumer spending and providing tax revenues and fees,” she says. “When Habitat builds or rehabs homes, it improves and raises property values in the area.”
The organization also uses local subcontractors for related jobs such as electrical, plumbing and flooring, and all building materials are purchased locally as well.
Much of the labor also is generated locally, as individuals, groups and corporations donate their time to a good cause. The management team at Wesley Chapel Toyota and Wesley Chapel Honda sends between eight and 10 employees to work on a HFH project every couple of months, with positive results for both the people they help and the team sent to do the helping.
“They love it,” says Eric Johnson, the director of corporate community relations for the two auto dealerships. “It’s one of things where when you serve with Habitat, you feel better about yourself.”
As an added benefit, Johnson says that the employees who work together on HFH homes form tighter bonds and develop friendships, which improves company morale.
He explains that, like many local businesses, the dealerships wanted to be involved with helping a local charity. As a person who has worked with the organization in different parts of the country over the years, he feels there’s something special about employees getting together to roll up their sleeves and participating in a physical project.
“We know that our hands are making a direct impact on a family’s life,” Johnson says, adding that the company’s next date with HFH is scheduled for October.
While HFH is a popular charitable destination for groups and individuals, Black says there is still some confusion about the organization and exactly what it does.
“The biggest misconception is that Habitat for Humanity gives away homes” she says. “Habitat works in partnership with low-income families and individuals to help them purchase simple, decent homes.”
Selected families receive financing, training and support help, and contribute at least 400 hours of their own time to help build their homes and assist on other projects. Once their home is completed, they purchase it with a 30-year, zero-interest mortgage, and those payments are used to purchase additional houses and continue the cycle of home ownership.
Contributing to HFH often takes the form of donating time for a day or writing a check, but Black stressed that there are other ways to help during these difficult economic times, including donating new or usable pre-owned items to a Habitat ReStore, holding a fund-raising event or simply participating in a car wash, golf tournament or other event benefiting the organization. Businesses, churches and community groups also can allow HFH to set up a table, distribute information or have a guest speaker attend an event to discuss the organization’s mission.
However people choose to help, Black said that the end result — a stable home and ownership opportunity for a family in need — is worth the energy and effort that goes into making those dreams a reality.
“When children move into their Habitat homes, oftentimes this is a child’s first time to have a room of their own,” Black says. “Sometimes, it is their first opportunity to have their own bed. The look on the children’s faces when they walk into their finished room is priceless.”
HFH offers free pickup for larger ReStore donations, such as furniture or appliances. For more information about open hours, items to donate or financial donations, or to learn more about Habitat for Humanity’s goals, call (352) 567-1444 or visit HabitatPasco.org.