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Local Habitat affiliate secures $2 million

Mark Parker

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Brianna Clayton (center) with members of her family at a Habitat for Humanity dedication ceremony in March. Photo by Bill DeYoung.

Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties’ first direct legislative appropriation will help 92 area families realize their dream of homeownership.

Florida’s record $116.5 billion budget signed into law Thursday included $2 million to support local affordable homeownership. Mike Sutton, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties, said the much-needed funding would help build six subdivisions.

He explained that the organization never seriously pursued state dollars directly, as municipal funds passed on to Habitat were enough to cover expenses. However, soaring construction costs are impeding the nonprofit’s ambitious efforts.

“Our local affiliate here is one of the largest producing Habitat affiliates across the country,” Sutton said. “The work that we do is transformational for so many families. We’ll build 75 homes this year, and that gets noticed.”

It also gets expensive.

According to the nonprofit’s 2023 report, which included fiscal year 2021-22 data, total expenses reached nearly $26 million. Sutton noted it costs $40,000 more to build a home than pre-pandemic, and the organization continues increasing efforts to mitigate the affordable housing crisis.

While Habitat is “historically strong” at raising funds to build individual houses, its leadership is now creating entire subdivisions. Sutton relayed that three upcoming St. Petersburg projects will provide 65 townhomes.

A Largo community will feature 54 townhomes, and a Clearwater development will add another 24 to the Pinellas housing stock. A subdivision in New Port Richey will include 24 single-family homes.

Sutton explained that creating communities incurs additional infrastructure, architecture, design and civil engineering work. Although the properties Habitat purchases are typically cheaper than surrounding areas, that is often due to it requiring significant improvements.

“When we’re doing a subdivision, there’s so much added costs associated with the groundwork that needs to be done,” he said. “These funds are just going to be instrumental in helping us get to the finish line on these projects.”

Elected officials from across Pinellas County helped build a home for a mother and her daughter in February. Photo provided.

While unsure of the process, he expects Habitat to receive the money in two to three months. Sutton added that if the check was ready, he would drive to Tallahassee and pick it up this weekend.

He said the local Habitat’s appropriation was the largest among the four affiliates included in the budget. Sutton noted the work and relationship-building that went into securing the money and called Sen. Ed Hooper the “driving force” in the Senate.

He said Rep. Kim Berfield was the House champion and that the organization would utilize the funding “almost immediately” to build 92 units. While there was some worry that the governor could veto the Legislature’s allocation, he credited state leadership’s commitment to addressing a crisis.

“I mean, we were overjoyed,” Sutton said. “We felt pretty confident that we put together a good ask, and we did the work behind the scenes to help the Legislature understand the need and how important these funds were to provide some affordable housing in our community.”

Mike Sutton (front), president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas & West Pasco Counties, at a home dedication with former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Warrick Dunn. Photo by Mark Parker.

He expressed pride in Habitat’s relationships with local legislators. Conversely, he believes they are proud of the organization’s efforts.

Sutton handed over the keys to Habitat’s 800th home in March. At the time, he noted that the nonprofit celebrated hitting 400 just six years ago.

Habitat has now helped 829 low-income residents become homeowners. Those with a demonstrable need must contribute around 400 sweat-equity hours and take 32 homeownership classes.

In return, applicants receive a zero-percent interest mortgage and the opportunity to transform poverty cycles into generational wealth.

“When we make promises to the community – we deliver on those,” Sutton said. “It takes a lot of stars aligning, but this $2 million is going to be a huge, huge boost to get these projects off the ground.”

 

 

 

 

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    Tangela Butler

    June 22, 2023at6:49 pm

    This is so awesome😊
    May God continue to Bless Habitat for Humanity to be able to make dreams of ownership come true for many years to come.I am currently an HOC awaiting my turn to accept the keys to my forever home. I’ve only dreamed of such a moment. Two years ago homelessness was staring me right in the face. But now thanks to God and my job for the increase in pay. I am finally able to become a homeowner. Thanks for all the donations as well as the sponsors and volunteers that give so freely to families in need. I am forever grateful for this opportunity ❤️

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