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Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County: A Community Building Homes- and Hope

By Jim Caton

If Pinellas County stands as a sign of the times with luxury homes on the one hand and a burgeoning homeless population on the other, we should take note of one other element that defines contemporary America: an increasingly robust and effective charitable effort on the part of community coalitions.

Carrying out the mission of Habitats for Humanity throughout the country, Habitat Pinellas "is dedicated to eliminating substandard housing locally and worldwide through constructing, rehabilitating and preserving homes; by advocating for fair and just housing policies; and by providing training and access to resources to help families improve their shelter conditions," says communications officer Robin Macar.

In a time of municipal water shut-offs, such a mission may seem more an uphill battle than ever, but Habitat Pinellas stands firmly on one simple belief. Says Macar, "Habitat for Humanity was founded on the conviction that every man, woman and child should have a simple, durable place to live in dignity and safety, and that decent shelter in decent communities should be a matter of conscience and action for all." It is that sense of conscience that runs through the organization and inspires those to whom Habitat Pinellas reaches out for help.

Pinellas County has the second highest homeless population in the state, and with rent prices on the rise faster in Pinellas than in any other area in the country, and a similar surge in the price of houses, Habitat Pinellas is meeting a crucial need. But the organization achieves what it does by enlisting and orchestrating the efforts of the community itself- and the people of Pinellas County and the city of Clearwater have proven themselves to be excellent neighbors. "Through our varied partnerships, our affordable housing program pulls several areas of our local community to work together with us to help families in not just Clearwater, but in all municipalities in Pinellas County," Macar explains.

Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County brings community volunteers, local government, corporate donors, civic organizations, and faith groups together to build affordable homes for struggling, low-income families in Clearwater and throughout Pinellas County." Habitat for Humanity, a Christian charity, builds homes for qualifying families using the labor of volunteers and of the families themselves- their "sweat equity" in their new homes. These affordable homes are then sold to the family at no profit and with 0% interest mortgages. Those mortgages then go on to fund further Habitat projects for other families.

What sets Habitat Pinellas apart? "Of the 1,500+ Habitat for Humanity affiliates in the United States, Habitat Pinellas is proud to be in the top 20 for new home construction for the past three years," says Macar. "Habitat Pinellas has also earned a four-star rating by Charity Navigator for eight straight years for sound governance and effective stewardship of donor dollars, an honor only one percent of charities evaluated have attained."

And Habitat Pinellas thinks big. Take the Stevens Creek subdivision for instance. Formerly the site of the dilapidated and condemned Homer Villas Housing Project, Stevens Creek is now the scene of remarkable activity. Breaking ground on the development in 2010, Habitat Pinellas has now completed 42 homes of a projected 51-home subdivision with completion scheduled for mid-2016.

The help has called from all directions, from thousands of individual volunteers- "the heartbeat of Habitat for Humanity," Macar calls them- to groups of employees from local companies, to support from local corporations. And let's not forget the public sector. "The local government has also been very supportive," Macar adds. "The City of Clearwater was instrumental in helping us acquire the land for Stevens Creek and has been a wonderful partner throughout the development process."

And in this scenario at least, what is good for one is good for all. "When the Stevens Creek subdivision is completed next year," says Macar, "the neighborhood's homeowners collectively will be contributing nearly $100,000 annually to the local tax base."

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An English teacher for twenty-five years, first at a college near Buffalo and then at...

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