On Sunday, September 10, 2017, Hurricane Irma made landfall on southern Florida. The destruction that followed resulted in Irma being dubbed the fifth-costliest Atlantic hurricane on record. Coming up on a year later, some Florida families who lost almost everything are still struggling to get back on their feet and find stable, affordable housing. On July 26, 2018, one family celebrated finally getting the keys to their new home.
In the aftermath of Irma, single mother Jaclyn Ortiz and her three daughters’ home had such a severely damaged roof that it was “basically caving in,” said Ortiz. The home was dangerously unlivable, and the family had no choice but to vacate it. Their housing up until their Habitat home was completed was very pricey in rent, and Ortiz is excited to be able to have the extra money to eventually save up, take a vacation, and even buy her daughter her first car.
For those unfamiliar with how Habitat for Humanity works, homes are not gifts for the families who move in. Families who wish to buy a Habitat home must qualify via an application process, then join other Habitat volunteers putting hundreds of hours of sweat equity labor into their own home and others’ Habitat homes, and on top of everything they take Habitat courses that cover essential topics in financial literacy and home ownership. Even school age children have education programs through Habitat. The end result? Qualified Habitat homeowners get to move into a modest but sturdy home and pay a monthly mortgage covered by a no-interest loan.
So how are building costs kept so minimal? Habitat for Humanity makes no profit, materials are locally sourced, and most of the builders are volunteers. Habitat aims to make future costs for the new homeowners as sustainable as possible, using sturdy new materials like vinyl siding, which can hold up for 40 years on average when it’s properly maintained.
The Ortiz home is the 229th house built by Habitat for Humanity in Palm Beach County, but that includes everything they have been building in PBC since before Irma, as far back as 1986. The huge project is backed by many donations and volunteers. Check out the West Palm Beach Habitat for Humanity site if you’re interested in personally donating, volunteering, or applying for your own home.