Habitat for Humanity at work in Florida
Weak economy means more Habitat homes built in South Florida
The economic downturn and housing crisis which have ravaged so many families and forced many nonprofit agencies to cut back — have been good for Habitat for Humanity. A decline in land values, a plethora of foreclosed homes and federal grants for neighborhood stabilization have allowed Habitat affiliates in Broward and Palm Beach counties — which build homes for working, low-income families — to have banner years. “We’ve increased our land purchases due to the economy, which enables us to build more homes,” said Mike Campbell, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of South Palm Beach County. And that puts people like Rojuana Moss into homes they never thought they’d have. The 57-year-old grandmother was “overwhelmed with joy” when she found out she soon would be a homeowner.
“I just lost it,” Moss said. “It’s just joy — to have a decent place and an affordable home.” Moss is one of the recent recipients of a Habitat for Humanity home. It’s being built in Boca Raton, a city that hasn’t had a new Habitat home in 10 years. A foreclosure made it possible for Habitat for Humanity of South Palm Beach County to build in the city again. Consider that in 2006, the organization was nearly out of land to build on, but it had plenty of cash. Now, it has 38 properties in southern Palm Beach County and is scrambling to raise additional cash to build new homes. In the northern half of the county, the county’s other Habitat affiliate is getting more offers from sellers and others are just donating land. “They’re looking to unload properties that have liens on them that they can’t afford to pay, or they don’t want to maintain it or can’t afford the maintenance,” said Bernard Godek, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Palm Beach County. A week ago, Habitat of South Palm Beach County broke ground on Ocean Breeze West, a development of 21 single-family homes in the Heart of Boynton neighborhood of Boynton Beach. It will be the organization’s first multiple-housing development. The Boynton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency donated the land, and Habitat is partnering with the Boynton Beach Faith Based Community Development Corp. to build the houses. It’s a prime example of cities and their CRAs partnering with Habitat to stabilize declining neighborhoods.
In Lake Worth, Habitat for Humanity of Palm Beach County is working with the Lake Worth CRA to build and renovate 30 homes this year. Typically, the group builds 15 homes a year. “This will be the largest project we have taken on,” Godek said.
The CRA received a $23 million federal stimulus grant as part of the neighborhood-stabilization program. The CRA buys foreclosed properties while Habitat and another partner — Adopt-A-Family of the Palm Beaches — renovate the homes or demolish them and rebuild. The impact is substantial, said Joan Oliva, Lake Worth CRA executive director. In many cases, several houses on a block are being renovated or rebuilt. “Homeownership is important,” Oliva said. “We need to get more homeowners in the neighborhood to stabilize the community, so we don’t have renters coming and going or absentee landlords.” To qualify for a Habitat home, a person must have a stable income, be able to pay a mortgage, have a satisfactory credit history, meet income guidelines and volunteer 500 hours on building other Habitat homes. For the South Florida affiliates, renovating homes is something new. They typically built from scratch, but the neighborhood-stabilization program changed that, allowing them to offer more affordable housing. “We’ve actually increased our building schedule, and it’s due to [neighborhood-stabilization program],” said Mary Lou Bowman Cubbin, director of construction for Habitat for Humanity of Broward County.
The Broward Habitat affiliate built 22 homes last year and renovated another seven partnering with Sunrise and North Lauderdale, which had neighborhood-stabilization grant money. This year, the organization plans to build 32 homes, 14 of which will be renovations in Sunrise and Hallandale Beach. Typically, it builds 20-30 homes a year. Still, the Habitat affiliates have continued challenges. In Broward, more land is needed. In south Palm Beach County, money is needed for construction. To complete the Boynton Beach project, Habitat needs to raise another $500,000. To increase fundraising, it plans to open a second ReStore, which sells donated furniture and other home goods, in Delray Beach in February. There already is one in Boca Raton.
“Our goal is to build 12 homes a year and maintain that,” Campbell said. “We have the opportunity now with the land.”
By Angel Streeter, Sun Sentinel