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Local Habitat for Humanity launches new division

By Staff | Dec 17, 2008

Habitat for Humanity of Lee County has launched a unique and innovative program to help keep its homeowners in their homes.
A new maintenance division has been developed to employ homeowners for lawn mowing services and handyman work for individuals and companies throughout Lee and Hendry counties.
“A lot of our homeowners are going through the same tough times as the community in this recession. That’s either a job loss or decrease in pay,” said Trisha Goins, vice president of communications. “In an effort to save our homeowners from foreclosure, we wanted to find a way to employ them, to give them income to pay their mortgages.”
The new division will offer lawn mowing services at monthly rates; free estimates will be provided for single lots, $60 will be charged for a double lot and $70 for a triple lot.
“Typically the going rate is $90 to $100 for a double lot,” said Goins.
The maintenance division will offer a variety of landscaping services, including trimming trees and bushes. It will also send workers out to do handyman services.
“Any kind of odd job, simple things like taking down Christmas lights, simple things that can involve some work,” Goins said.
She said one worker went out to install ceiling fans for a recent returnee from up north at an extremely reasonable price. All services will be bid out at below market value.
“It’s a unique program, unique to the times,” said Goins.
Officials at the North Fort Myers-based office came up with the innovative idea, the first of its kind of all the Habitat affiliates in the United States.
“We’ve always been proud that Lee County has spearheaded a lot of new ideas in the Habitat world,” said Goins.
The local office has won awards for its leaders innovative thinking and programs, including the Senior Housing program it launched and the thrift store successes.
“Everybody wins with this maintenance division,” said Goins. “The community wins because it’s reduced prices for services, more affordable. Homeowners obviously win with the extra income.”
Jerry Gibson assigns the jobs to workers.
“The program is going very well, and it has just started,” he said.
Homeowner Miguel Velez said it is a great program. He has been a Habitat homeowner for five years but lost his job of seven years at the same company as an electrician due to the economic downturn.
“I have the house and two kids,” he said. “I was worried. But this came around and they give me my own equipment. I do everything from mowing to cutting trees, planting, cleaning up areas. I’m a happy camper.”
A non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating substandard housing in Lee County, Habitat has built more than 900 homes in Lee County since 1982.
The fact that the houses are in so many locations adds to the offerings of the division. The division will service all of Lee and Hendry counties with local homeowners in a business owner or individual’s area, from North Fort Myers to Cape Coral, to Lehigh Acres to Sanibel.
“We’ll go anywhere to do these services,” said Goins. “It could be as simple as transporting large gifts for the holidays to larger jobs, we have trucks and mowers.”
Free estimates are offered through the organization, which will send experienced estimaters to a company or home.
Goins said when the organization first came up with the idea, Habitat contacted all 900 homeowners to see if they wanted to attend a meeting to discuss the plan. That ended up as two meetings, with several hundred attending each.
“There really is a need for this by our homeowners,” said Goins.
Through the use of volunteer labor and donations of money and materials, Habitat builds simple, decent housing for families who otherwise could not afford it. Homes are sold to the homeowners at no profit on an interest-free mortgage, making homeownership an affordable reality.
In September, the Southwest Florida office had a record number of closings.
Also responding to the times, instead of building new homes, the organization is purchasing foreclosed homes in the area to provide the zero interest rate to those who qualify for the program.
There are 1,700 Habitat offices in the United States, 2,300 worldwide.
To get a free estimate on maintenance work, or to learn more about Habitat, call 652-0434.