If I told you that Habitat for Humanity does not give away homes, would you believe me? I hope so because it’s the truth! We sell affordable homes to deserving buyers who work extremely hard to buy their home and even help build it. In fact, this year we plan to build and sell 22 homes for neighbors who wouldn’t otherwise be able to buy.
And suppose I told you that Habitat is not one massive, nonprofit organization; that if someone donates to Habitat International or one of the 1,100 U.S. affiliates, they unfortunately have not donated to all of us. Though we have the same roots, mission, vision, branding, and basic motus operandi, each local Habitat affiliate is an independent entity operationally, legally, and fiscally, and raises its own funding.
We at Habitat Seminole-Apopka are your Hometown Habitat for the Greater Apopka area of Orange County. We build and sell affordable homes in our local area. There are three other affiliates in our tri-county region, each serving a neighboring geographic area. All of us, however, are affected by the Central Florida housing climate.
You also might be surprised to learn the families and individuals we help work full-time. They are found in professions such as a teacher, medical administrator, plant manager, nonprofit professional, transportation supervisor, government worker, and other crucial personnel.
Neighbors who apply to our Homebuyers Program must be able to pay an affordable mortgage, have a housing need, and be willing to partner with us to qualify for a Habitat home. Living paycheck-to-paycheck with an often-astronomical rent, most have not been able to save for a downpayment or obtain a mortgage on the open market. (The median monthly rent for a 3-bedroom in our area is $2,064, per the National Low Income Housing Coalition.)
Our clients are people like Cheryl.
Cheryl was raised in South Apopka, a close-knit community in unincorporated Orange County. The present rate of homeownership there is nearly 10 percentage points below the City of Apopka. (World Population Review.)
That is also where Cheryl and her ex-husband bought their Habitat home in 2004, an investment she recently paid off. As we planned her mortgage burning ceremony, she looked back almost 20 years.
“We were living in a two-bedroom duplex before Habitat,” she says of the couple and their four children. “All crunched up in there.” Her husband was the sole provider at the time; she was raising their children and trying to make the money stretch.
Then, they learned about us and began their journey.
She remembers it vividly: the sweat equity hours, the supportive Habitat Board members, the good feeling of helping other Future Homebuyers, the fact that Southland Construction sponsored her home, and the Home Dedication itself.
After living there almost 10 years, the couple split up. Her husband stayed in the house with the children for a while. Eventually, Cheryl took possession and has been the sole owner and mortgage-payer for the 10 years since they divorced.
Owning a home built Cheryl’s confidence, setting her on the path toward a lifelong passion of medical administration. She earned an AA degree in Business Management during her separation and was promoted from True Health’s front desk to Center Manager, a position she held for six years.
This go-getter then pursued a BA in Accounting and Medical Administration and is about to achieve that goal. She recently became Center Manager at the Community Health Center in Apopka, where she continues to assist people because “someone helped me along the way.”
As consistently happens, homeownership has had a positive effect on this whole family. Cheryl’s four children have inherited their mother’s work ethic and desire for education. She is building generational wealth to pass down to them. “There will be no loans taken out,” she says. “This is the family house. When I die, my children will have someplace to go. It’s their legacy.”
That was unmistakable as her children, friends, extended family,and Habitat staff gathered last week to watch the 20-year mortgage, which she paid off in 18 years, go up in flames in her firepit.
Thanking the Heavens, all who supported her, and Habitat, Cheryl was grateful and proud. “I fell into the cracks but was able to get up because of Habitat. This is a blessing. It feels SO good to be a homeowner that is paid in full!”
And when I say there were happy tears and much cheering – you can believe me!
To find out more, donate or volunteer, please visit www.HabitatSeminoleApopka.