Spring breakers give Habitat for Humanity a hand
Instead of basking in the beach sun, more than 160 students decided to help rebuild in local communities over spring break.
Habitat for Humanity of Lee County got extra help over the last few weeks from college students from around the country.
“Right now across the board, a lot of spring breakers are choosing to serve their community versus taking that traditional spring break at the beach,” said Habitat for Humanity’s Trisha Goins, vice president of communications. “This year we saw a total of about 160 students from colleges all over the country. Some of the states were Ohio, Colorado, Vermont, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Connecticut and Massachusetts.”
“I wanted to do something truly enriching over spring break,” said Joey Bainett, a Vermont Law School student. “I chose Habitat for Humanity because I wanted to gain some perspective on the blight housing situation. With school, we get so wrapped up in homework, it’s difficult to grasp the magnitude of the economy. Lee County’s Habitat affiliate is one of the largest in the world, so I decided to come here.”
Many choose to come to the local Habitat affiliate for its service, said Goins.
“They actually worked throughout headquarters where they picked their affiliate. When I asked them why us, many said they knew we were the largest affiliate in the world and they wanted to work with us,” she said.
Collegient Challenge is the name of the national program, and Habitat of Humanity usually gets about 12,000 student volunteers to serve at more than 200 Habitat affiliates.
Locally they worked in North Fort Myers, LaBelle, Lehigh Acres and Bonita Springs, coordinated through the North Fort Myers office.
“Right now we’re actually building quite a bit in LaBelle, and they actually worked on the houses, things like sheet rocking and raising the walls. Some did roofing,” Goins said, adding that she met quite a few of the students.
“They were really excited to be here and were ready to get their hands dirty. In North Fort Myers, they worked on some apartments on our campus we wanted to rehab,” she said.
Rehabbing homes is new focus for Habitat
Responding to the times, besides building new homes, the organization is purchasing foreclosed homes in the area. Habitat’s calling it a “building and buying blend.”
“The benefits overall is that it helps homeowners back into some of these vacant properties,” Goins said. “We determined on our own that we wanted to help turn the housing crisis around, do something different. So we came up with the buying as well as building.”
Vacant houses have been eyesores in many areas, with the new rehabbed homes, they are also no longer invitations to vandals.
“That’s what we’re doing for the community. On our side, it’s more affordable to purchase these homes than to build. We can buy two to three houses for the cost of building one,” she said.
Projecting for the year, Habitat expects 70 percent of its affiliate work will go toward rehabbing existing structures.
“We were the first Habitat affiliate to look at the building/buying blend,” Goins said. “We started looking at homes last year and closings began this January. Now a lot of affiliates are following our model.
“It usually takes us six months to a year to build a house, the rehabbing takes three months or sometime less,” she added.
It is win-win for the community, Goins said.
“We’re trying to encourage more homeowners to come into our program. One way we are doing that is lowering our sweat-equity hours to be part of the program,” she said. “Now it’s 250, as opposed to the old number of 500 hours. And we’ve cut the monthly mortgage payment basically in half from what they used to be.”
A nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating substandard housing in Lee County, Habitat has built more than 900 homes in Lee County since 1982.
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.
For information, call 652-0434.