Building pride

Homeowners commit to 400 hours of 'sweat equity'


David Martin and co-workers install a curb Wednesday for the future site of Celebration Oaks, a Habitat for Humanity project that is building homes for low-income families in Gainesville.

ALLISON LABINE/Special to The Sun
Published: Thursday, January 22, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 22, 2004 at 1:10 a.m.

At the moment, some hard-packed dirt roadways and a few newly poured concrete curbs are all the evidence of what Habitat for Humanity is planning on 15 acres in southeast Gainesville.

Facts

VOLUNTEERS NEEDED

  • To volunteer with Habitat for Humanity or to apply for a Habitat home, call 378-4663.

  • Applicants for Habitat housing should have family incomes between $15,000 and $30,000 a year and be willing to help construct homes for others as well as help build your own home.

  • Over the next two to three years, the organization plans to help local families help themselves by building Celebration Oaks, a community of 60 homes off SE 21st Avenue.

    Today, state and local officials will gather at the site to celebrate the first significant housing development in years in southeast Gainesville, one aimed at the under-served low-income market.

    "This development really holds true to its title," state Rep. Ed Jennings Jr., D-Gainesville, said of Celebration Oaks, which is in his district. "Gainesville is in dire need of more affordable housing."

    "We need to continue to provide opportunities like this for families to live the American dream," he said.

    The project is also unique because it's one of just a few Habitat home clusters in the nation, Alachua Habitat Executive Director Dave Feather said.

    The recipients of Habitat homes always commit to spending 200 hours of "sweat equity" working on other people's homes and another 200 hours helping build their own. The difference at Celebration Oaks is that they will be helping their future neighbors build their homes and building a community and relationships along with them, Feather said.

    "Neighbors will be building homes along with each other," he said. "They'll take breaks and have lunch together and that fosters a bonding and a real sense of community."

    The sense of pride in helping build a home is part of the reason that 95 percent of people nationwide are successful in becoming owners of Habitat for Humanity homes, Feather said.

    "I think it's significant that they don't just work on their own homes, so it's not just a 'me, me, me' thing," he said. "There's a real sense of pride and determination to be successful in their new home."

    Plans are to build a community park area, perhaps with basketball courts or a baseball field.

    Local engineering firm Brown & Cullen Inc. helped design the community, discounting its fees roughly 75 percent, Feather said.

    "They really helped design the community with the families in mind," he said.

    Among the first 10 families that have been selected are two married couples with children and eight single mothers with one to four children each, Alachua Habitat Assistant Director Carrie Reppert said.

    The organization continues to accept applications from prospective homeowners, who must meet income guidelines and currently have a deficient housing situation.

    Though Habitat homes are designed for "low and very low income" families, prospective owners must have the means to keep up monthly payments on their no-interest mortgages. Among residents, the average household income is in the $15,000 to $30,000 range, with monthly house payments, including taxes and insurance, of roughly $350 a month.

    When Habitat for Humanity first announced the Celebration Oaks project more than a year ago, the organization envisioned a housing "blitz" during which all 60 homes would be built in 30 days.

    But fund-raising, which the organization relies on to pay for construction materials, has been slower than hoped for, Reppert said.

    "Now we're being more realistic and saying it will probably be two to three years," Reppert said.

    Carrie Miller can be reached at (352) 338-3103 or millerc@gvillesun.com.

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