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By SHARON TUBBS, City Times Editor
Published December 7, 2007
The sad songs keep coming. They start out with a weary violin, only to climax with a bitter chorus from homeowners, builders, contractors, even affable furniture salesmen.
They intone that home sales are plummeting, and so are their profits and dreams.
Now, at the tail end of the dirge, comes Habitat for Humanity of Hillsborough County.
The faith-based nonprofit builds affordable houses and sells them at no profit and with no interest to families who qualify.
Volunteers do much of the building, while individual and corporate donors give money and materials. Families take part in building their American Dream, logging at least 500 hours of sweat equity.
You've heard the happy tales of Habitat for Humanity beneficiaries, good people who work hard and pay bills but couldn't quite make it without a little help.
The organization pays its wages, insurance, bills, marketing and other operating expenses with income from its ReStore, a 12,000-square-foot warehouse full of stuff on E Hillsborough Avenue.
The problem is, the ReStore is not on track this fiscal year to reach its budgeted $575,000 - a little more than half the operating budget of about $1-million. (That budget doesn't include donations specifically earmarked for building homes.)
At the ReStore, rows are cluttered with kitchen cabinets, new bathtubs, fancy porch lamps, sofas, chairs, chandeliers and treadmills.
The merchandise comes from companies, builders and private homeowners, and prices tend to be about 50 percent of retail for new goods, even less for used stuff, store manager Marty Zickgraf said.
About a month ago, the owner of a West Shore Boulevard estate called Habitat for Humanity to gut the place before the wrecking ball claimed it. He didn't want to pay taxes on the property anymore.
Workers left with granite countertops, fancy fireplace mantels, stainless-steel appliances - including a big commercial refrigerator just a few years old - and five water heaters.
Last week, the ReStore was selling new Kohler bathtubs that a company donated. Habitat sold them for $150 each.
But it's not enough.
The ReStore isn't getting the donors or buyers it used to, and workers think they're being hit with a trickle-down effect from poor home sales.
Builders have slowed building, which means they have less excess to donate to places like the ReStore. Homeowners have stopped buying, which means fewer are ridding themselves of used furniture, appliances and the like.
Donations are down about 25 percent to 30 percent compared with last year, Zickgraf said.
The problem could jeopardize homes Habitat intends to build, said Kathy Brogli, community relations director.
Habitat has gone through a reorganization over the past 18 months, aggressively boosting plans to help local families, Brogli said. In the three-year span from mid 2004 through the first half of 2007, the organization closed on just five homes. But since July this year, Habitat has already closed on six homes for area families.
"We mean business," Brogli said.
An upcoming project calls for nine to 11 homes in the Orient Park area, east of Orient Road. Building could start in the next few weeks and take 12 to 18 months.
Longer-range plans call for a 25-home neighborhood near Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and U.S. 301. Habitat wants to start building the first house in the next 12 to 15 months.
But that time line depends on fundraising, Brogli said.
"It's something we are definitely going to do," she said, but "the speed of it depends on fundraising."
"We would like for it to take two years to build all of those homes, but it could take more - three, four, or five years," she said.
That's a long time to wait.
In the general housing market, fewer people are buying homes. But many people are eager to take part in Habitat for Humanity's program.
Already, Brogli said, families are applying for homes in Orient Park.
Habitat for Humanity of Hillsborough County ReStore
3738 E Hillsborough Ave., Tampa
Acceptable donations: working appliances less than 7 years old; architectural items; kitchen/bath cabinets; flooring; doors; electrical (residential only); plumbing; HVAC/AC units; lumber (full-length sheets only); lighting fixtures; storm windows and doors; windows; roofing material/gutters; Sheetrock/drywall (full sheets only); furniture; hand/power tools; complete sets of door hardware, hinges and related items; and paint (unopened latex paint or stain).
Donations are tax deductible. For more information, call Habitat for Humanity at 237-1978 or visit the Web site at www.habitathillsborough.com.
[Last modified December 6, 2007, 07:32:45]