A dream that is over 10 years in the making to bring 58 affordable homes to South Apopka is a few shovels of dirt closer to completion.
About 200 Apopka residents, elected officials, community leaders, volunteers and staff from Orange County Government, Homes in Partnership (HIP), Habitat for Humanity of Seminole County and Greater Apopka, and Habitat for Humanity of Greater Orlando braved a cold and windy morning to witness the groundbreaking ceremony for Arbor Bend (a 34-home community) and its sister development Juniper Bend (a 24-home community).
“This housing project may very well be the biggest thing that has ever happened in the South Apopka community from an economic development standpoint,” said Apopka Mayor Joe Kilsheimer, who spoke at the event. “Indeed, in my opinion, we are standing on the brink of a turning point for this community the likes of which we have never seen before.”
Penny Seater, the Executive Director for the Seminole County/Greater Apopka Habitat for Humanity, explained why at a Townhall for Homes meeting held at the John Bridges Center in South Apopka last month.
“In the greater Apopka area, 16% of families live below the poverty line,” she said. “And 62% are spending up to 50% of their income on housing. The average 2-bedroom apartment in Apopka costs $1,000. On minimum wage, a person would have to work two and a half jobs to manage that cost. In some cases, they have to decide between groceries and prescription drugs. Saving for a down payment is out of the question.”
Seater went on to explain that homeowners are healthier, more stable, and their children are more likely to graduate high school and go to college.
“No matter who you are or where you come from you deserve a good life. Every one of us deserves a better opportunity.”
And 58 families in South Apopka are visually closer to that opportunity.
Apopka historian and South Apopka resident Francina Boykin captured the moment in song and emotion.
“I am not forgotten
I am not forgotten
I am not forgotten
God knows my name.
He knows my name.”
“Welcome to MY neighborhood!” Boykin boomed in a victorious voice after singing the first few verses of the age-old hymn. “I was born just a few blocks from here. This area was once known as the Graveyard Quarters. But now it will be called Arbor Bend and Juniper Bend. Some people say put up or shut up. Habitat puts up.”
The two projects will account for a 58-home community that will be developed in South Apopka located near 13th Street and Washington Avenue. This development represents a joint effort between Orange County Government, Homes in Partnership (HIP), Habitat for Humanity of Seminole County and Greater Apopka, and Habitat for Humanity of Greater Orlando.
The site location was previously known as Hawthorne Village Apartments, an 84-unit farmworker complex located on 12 acres that had become dilapidated. In 2003, the title to the property was transferred from the Orlando Housing Authority to HIP. Engineering assessments determined that it would be cost prohibitive to renovate the complex. In 2006, HIP demolished the building on the property and began the process of redevelopment. The organization held community meetings to develop a vision based on community input. The result of which was the concept of affordable, single-family homes.
The approximate size of the houses will be 1,079 to 1,510 square feet and will be anywhere from three to five bedrooms with one to two baths. The fair market value of the homes will be around $140,000 to $154,000. There are certain eligibility requirements that homebuyers must meet to qualify for this program. Homebuyer income must be 30% to 80% of the median income for the Orlando Metropolitan Area. Also, homebuyers must complete 200 to 400 hours of “sweat equity,” complete homebuyer education classes, have no more than $2,000 in collections, and be able to save $3,000 for closing costs.
“The 58 homes represent a major investment in the South Apopka community, a seed of hope, if you will, for future economic success,” Kilsheimer said. We have to water and feed that seed with more economic development, more investment and more jobs for this community. All of these are successes will beget more success. But make no mistake. The work to revitalize South Apopka and make it a thriving, vibrant and economically successful community is just beginning. It’s going to take all of us: Orange County, the City of Apopka and all of our community partners to continue the work that is beginning here today. But if today’s ceremony is any indication, it is clear that we are finally moving in the right direction.”
Perhaps the person most passionate about this project is Apopka Commissioner Billie Dean, who has championed the South Apopka effort for decades.
“It’s a God sent endeavor to do something on this side of the city,” Dean said. Affordable housing in South Apopka is what I have been fighting for as long as I’ve been a commissioner. Habitat taking the reins is just what we need.”
Look over there,” he said pointing across the street past Juniper and Arbor Bend.” You see those houses? My wife and I built those homes. Beautiful 2-bedroom duplexes, 21 of them we built. Back in the 80’s. For decades I have been calling for this. This has been necessary for decades. I have been asking for this type of project well into the previous administration. This is a godsend for this community. They called it the Graveyard Quarters because of all the shacks they built right next to the graveyard. But no more.”
And for Boykin, Dean and those 58 future residents of Arbor and Juniper Bend, this community might go from the Graveyard Quarters to 15 acres of Heaven in South Apopka.