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Homeowners get a break, get to work

Five families will have to pay 400 hours of dues to receive Habitat for Humanity homes. Still, they're thrilled.

By CHRISTINA JEWETT

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 24, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- On Thursday evening, Vickie Sullivan and four others signed covenants of partnership with Pinellas Habitat for Humanity. Sullivan's signature bound her to 400 hours of laboring on a house, answering phones in the Habitat office or working in the local Habitat resale shop.

It was a quiet moment -- not like Tuesday evening, when Sullivan learned that she was one of the five chosen out of about 100 applications.

"I was crying," Sullivan said.

"She was screaming," said her 9-year-old son, Alfred. "She almost busted my eardrums."

The covenant signing, at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, 301 37th Ave. N, signifies a partnership between families and the Pinellas Habitat chapter. The participants converged for the largest one-time covenant signing in Pinellas Habitat history. Applications flooded the office after the economy became bleak, so the selection committee took the five families and closed the application window until the fall. Those who will receive homes must put in 200 hours of "sweat equity" before their house will begin to take form.

Recipients pay installments on a down payment and work another 200 hours before they can move in. Work sites come alive on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Recipients can enlist friends and family to work off their hours.

With local supporters, the recipients will pour the foundation, raise the walls and shingle the roof of each house. They can also wind down hours working in the resale shop at 3962 Central Ave. or in the Habitat office.

These five houses will count toward nearly 100 built by the local Habitat chapter since it started 15 years ago. To qualify for the program, people have to fall within 30 to 50 percent of the local median income. For example, a family of four in Pinellas County needs to make between $14,250 and $23,750.

Once recipients are settled in their houses, they pay a monthly mortgage to support the building of more Habitat houses. Mortgages are usually about $300, and a house for a family of four costs about $60,000.

Deborah Richardson, a Clearwater resident, has been living in her Habitat house for nearly a year. The best part is having central heat and air, a luxury missing from the duplex she, her husband and two daughters shared before moving.

"It was near a baseball diamond, and the rats would come to the house after a game," Richardson said. "We could hear them fighting in the walls and the ceiling."

Richardson can't remember the questions asked by the committee that interviews families considered for houses. Her mind went on autopilot. She really wanted a house.

After her family was accepted, she started pouring hours into hammering, stapling and painting. She suffered from bruised thumbs and the fear of not actually receiving a house. Now she sits on the front porch of a house that is the shade of yellow a child would color the sun.

The neighborhood isn't perfect, but Richardson and her husband try to help their neighbors, just as they were helped.

"Each week my husband goes to a food bank and gets food to drop off to a family that seem the most needy," she said.

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