Updated September 25, 2020
Over the last year, as the COVID-19 pandemic has made its way through communities all over the United States, Habitat’s leadership team has been forced to make some difficult decisions. The organization’s mission of bringing people together to build homes, communities, and hope, will always be the number one priority. However, as a volunteer-driven organization, there’s a lot at stake.
On Friday, September 25th, 48 avid volunteers and supporters joined Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties CEO, Becky Lucas, for a live Habichat conversation on Zoom. This conversation informed how the organization is responding to COVID-19, plus our plans for moving forward and what that means for volunteers. To learn more, watch the video and read the FAQs below.
Updated September 1, 2020
How many homes will Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties build this fiscal year?
Habitat has made audacious plans to build 55 homes in Lee County this fiscal year for sale to families in need of decent, affordable housing. With its wall-raising schedule now finalized, Habitat is reinforcing its commitment to deliver affordable homeownership to local families at levels consistent with preCovid-19 plans. “This pandemic vigorously impacts the most economically and physically vulnerable members of our community,” said Habitat CEO Becky Lucas. The median Lee County renter struggles to find affordable housing in a constrained market, spending 52 percent of their income on housing. Lucas adds, “With 55 homes in some phase of planning or construction for Lee County this year, our ministry remains ready to build hope in families who need the strong foundation of decent, affordable housing.”
How has Covid-19 impacted Habitat home building in Lee and Hendry Counties?
With 19 families completing their partnership requirements and closing on their affordable homes since the pandemic in our area began, Habitat for Humanity has maintained the momentum it has built over the last 38 years. Over 1700 local families have purchased Habitat homes since Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties was chartered in 1982. “Habitat’s strength today is a reflection of the generosity of our community” states Lucas, “Generosity with time, talent and treasure. Our model is completely dependent upon volunteers and donors, so it takes extraordinary efforts to maintain momentum in times like now, when stakeholder engagement is limited.”
“Our team here at Habitat recently finished analyzing whether it is possible for us to deliver the 55 families we had planned to deliver this year with the new reality that volunteer assistance will be limited due to C-19. One option is to slow down the work to accommodate volunteers at historical participation levels (60% of construction) while safely social distancing. We weighed that against supplementing a limited number of volunteers with skilled trades to keep the pace of work we had planned, thereby completing all 55 homes. As difficult as it is for our organization to limit volunteers, we decided that it is more important that we keep our plan to deliver homes to families at our anticipated pace. We have the land inventory to deliver homes to over 900 families in the next 15 years, so now is not the time to take our foot off the gas.”
Where in Lee County does Habitat plan to build?
Habitat plans to raise walls on the first homes in two new neighborhoods this September. The largest neighborhood, Heritage Heights, is a 24-acre planned community in South Fort Myers where Habitat will begin constructing the first of the neighborhood’s 150 homes on September 11. Strategically designed using Habitat’s internationally recognized Quality of Life in Neighborhoodsframework, the community promotes personal and economic stability by connecting residents with opportunities to thrive. “With Southwest Florida being one of the fastest-growing areas in the United States, our affordable housing market is constrained, leaving many families to face housing instability. Heritage Heights represents the future of Habitat for Humanity as we strive to build neighborhoods that meet the demand for affordable homeownership and empower residents to take leadership roles in their communities,”according to Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties’ President Rick Mercer.
Further south, on a wooded cul-de-sac near Bonita Beach Road, Habitat will raise walls September 3 on two of the five Bonita Springs homes they will build and sell to hard-working families this year. “Habitat homeowners help build their own homes alongside volunteers and pay an affordable mortgage. While C-19 prevents Habitat from safely utilizing volunteers at this time, our Future Homeowners will participate in their own solution by building their future home with Habitat staff and contracted skilled tradesmen,” explains Mercer, “With our help, Habitat homeowners achieve the strength, stability and self-reliance they need to build a better life for themselves and their families.”
Not a new neighborhood, but centrally located within the Fort Myers city limits, Majorca Palms is a 108-home Habitat for Humanity community with a neighborhood pavilion and 2 playgrounds. This year, seven twin villas will be made available for sale to homeowners looking for a lawn maintenance-free lifestyle.
The remainder of Habitat’s homes will be built on scattered lots throughout Fort Myers, North Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Lehigh Acres, San Carlos Park and Labelle.
How will Covid-19 impact Habitat for Humanity moving forward?
While this year’s delivery of 55 affordable homes remains a source of inspiration for Habitat’s stakeholders, the organization has not escaped negative impact from C-19.
- Neighborhood Development: “We had planned to develop a new 14-home subdivision on Streetsboro Avenue in the Rosemary Park area of Bonita Springs,” laments Lucas, “but because we don’t yet fully comprehend the financial effects of the pandemic, we lost the ability to develop that neighborhood on schedule. However, this month Habitat’s Board of Directors voted on terms for a loan from FineMark Bank which will allow us to begin moving dirt in just a few weeks. This means we will deliver the first families in that neighborhood next year!”
- Volunteers: “Volunteers typically comprise 60% of Habitat’s labor cost, but March 13 was the last day we had the benefit of that resource,” explains Lucas. “We are not comfortable that we can properly protect volunteers in all the customary phases of construction, which means our costs to build are increased. Coupled with the fact that ReStores, which account for 15% of Habitat’s revenues, were completely shut down for six weeks and are themselves operating without their critical volunteer force, it becomes clear that an organization as strong as Habitat will still need help to recover. It is only working for now because our volunteers have chosen to support us in a different way, with cash donations.” Replacing volunteers with skilled tradesmen on tasks where we can’t assure safe distancing will allow us to get the homes built.
- Funding: Although Habitat’s costs rise to unsustainable levels when volunteers are removed from the equation, the organization’s staff is committed to preserving the community’s investment in its affordable homeownership ministry. When ReStores closed, the retail staff became construction crew, helping complete houses. Likewise, when the ReStores reopened and staff found themselves shorthanded, the construction team rallied to stock shelves, pick up donations and operate the cash registers. In addition to being versatile, Habitat staff is accustomed to being frugal. “As a course of business, 95 cents of every dollar donated goes to Habitat for Humanity of Lee and Hendry Counties’ mission to build homes, communities and hope. Now, more than ever, our team realizes we need to save every nail, every screw. We squeeze every bit we can because that adds up to a house!” exclaims Mercer.
How can I help?
- Donate. We urgently need your financial support. Habitat’s costs rise to unsustainable levels when volunteers are removed from the equation and we need your financial support to help us continue meeting the needs of the families we serve. Click here to give a gift online or see other ways to give.
- Stay Connected. For Habitat updates, click here to follow us on Facebook.
- Pray. Please join us in praying for those who are ill and those who are struggling financially. Pray for protection over our entire community and all those who come into contact with this Habitat ministry.