Just say no to rent

L-R, Tiffany, Jacqueline and Allan were sponsored by Nancy and Steve Westphal for a new Habitat for Humanity home

 

BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG –Jacqueline, her daughter Tiffany and son Allan were blessed with a new home just in time for the holidays. Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County gave them the keys to their new home in Child’s Park last Friday, Nov. 3.

The family’s three bedroom, two-bathroom block home was built in partnership with the family and was graciously sponsored by restaurateurs Steve and Nancy Westphal and their eatery The Hangar Restaurant & Flight Lounge.

The completion of this home is part of Habitat for Humanity’s $1.5 million commitment to new home construction within the South St. Petersburg CRA in 2017.  Since Jan. 1, Habitat Pinellas has completed 10 new homes in the CRA through an investment of more than $1,347,000 with an additional four homes to be completed by year-end in the CRA.

“This one is extra special because it’s in Childs Park. This is a neighborhood that we have really been laser focused on,” said Mayor Rick Kriseman, who noted that when his administration took office there were nearly 200 vacant and boarded homes in the area and there are fewer than 40.

The American dream of homeownership becomes a reality for families in need through the work of Habitat Pinellas, a nonprofit organization that builds and sells quality affordable homes in partnership with limited income households and the Pinellas County community.

To dispel any myths, Habitat for Humanity does not give away homes to the poor. They actually sell homes at zero percent interest to those who qualify.

Depending on the value of the land, on an average, a three-bedroom Habitat home will have monthly payments ranging from $664 to $720, which includes taxes and insurance.

So what does one have to do to qualify for a Habitat home?

“The need is based on their current living situation such as being overcrowded or if they’re paying an adsorbent amount of their monthly income towards rent,” said Habitat for Humanity CEO Mike Sutton.

Other factors include overcrowded conditions, unsafe, unsanitary conditions or substandard housing with a leaky roof, poor heating or lack of proper plumbing.

This was certainly the case with Jacqueline. She and her children were living in a small two-bedroom apartment with rent on the rise. She learned about the program when she was volunteering on another Habitat home and decided to apply.

Jacqueline was determined to complete the process and become a homeowner, a course some may find too difficult.

“It’s been a long journey and now my family is here. I’m relieved, I’m excited, I feel blessed,” said Jacqueline. “I’m grateful for everyone who played a part in it. It just goes to show that with hard work and determination, just about anything is possible.”

Sutton explained to qualify you must have steady employment for at least a year. They also look to see if there are large gaps in employment in the applicants past. A candidate must show that they can afford a home and have reasonably good credit.

For those who have credit issues, there is no need to fret.

“If they have issues we work with them to clean it up,” said Sutton.

The potential homeowner goes through credit counseling classes where they come up with a budget and start paying down debt. If there are accounts in collections, they will work to bring them out.

This all happens through a series of 16 classes where six of them are geared toward the financial component of owning a home. Depending on their situation, a family may have to do one on one counseling.

“Once they are at that point, they can qualify for a home,” said Sutton.

And that’s where the “sweat equity” begins. Jacqueline’s partnership agreement required her to complete the 16 classes as well as 250 sweat equity hours with 50 hours on her own home. She exceeded the requirement by completing more than 300 hours.

Homeowner Service Coordinator Ally Beausir works with families from the moment they are accepted into the program to the moment they are given the keys to their home. She said the homes are of the utmost quality, going above and beyond building codes.

“For hurricane resistance and energy efficiency, things like steal reinforced concrete walls will help to reduce insurance cost while things like high-efficiency vinyl windows will help to lower utility bills and save energy,” said Beausir.

Jacqueline happily opens the door to her new home for the first time

Jacqueline happily opens the door to her new home for the first time

Jacqueline was able to personalize her home by selecting the kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanities along with countertops and the exterior color of her home.

“I’m exciting! It’s new and it’s safe,” stated Tiffany, the 26-year-old daughter of Jacqueline.

“My mom is a very private person so she doesn’t like to share her story,” said Tiffany. “I want to let you know that she’s strong and always puts everyone before herself, so this opportunity to have a brand new house that’s taking care of where she has nothing to worry about is amazing.”

Jacqueline’s home is the third house the Westphals have sponsored. By happenstance, they saw a Habitat for Humanity sign on Home Repair Services Supervisor Antwuan Wells’ truck.  He invited them out to a dedication, and the rest is new homeownership history.

“It means just as much to us just to be here, to be working with you side by side. I don’t know who gets more today. Congratulations and it’s with a warm heart and happy doing the Snoopy dance inside that I get to hand this key over to you,” said Steve Westphal.

Nancy Westphal presented the family with a commemorative hammer to remind them of all the sweat equity they put into the house, a representative from Congressman Charlie Crist’s office gave them a flag that has been flown over the nation’s capital and Pastor Dave Gerald, of Anona United Methodist Church, presented the family with a bible.

A Habitat home will break ground next door to Jacqueline in the coming months.  The family is looking forward to volunteering at their neighbor’s home and giving them some choice advice.

“It’s a lot of hard work. You have to be determined and see that light at the end of the tunnel,” said Jacqueline. “It’s a blessing; the program itself is a blessing.”

For more information on the Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County program, please log on to www.habitatpinellas.org.

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