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HomeBusiness & CommunityHabitat for Humanity Returns to Hernando

Habitat for Humanity Returns to Hernando

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On April 19 of this year, Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco County was awarded the opportunity to bring their services to the people of Hernando County. Founded in 1985, the organization is returning to Hernando after the former Habitat for Humanity branch closed its doors and had its liabilities and assets absorbed by the Mid-Florida Homeless Coalition in 2022. That organization, now operating as You Thrive, continues its own housing program now called House to Home. As a result, Habitat’s work will be done by an entirely new affiliate, helmed by President and CEO Mike Sutton, who is getting to work and looking to begin developing relationships with local community members.

“Habitat’s goal is to provide affordable homeownership opportunities to families in our community,” Sutton said. “We do that by partnering with families that make a certain income in the community. They fall between 30 and 80 percent of the area’s median income. If they qualify for the program, they are provided a zero-interest mortgage,” which “is what keeps the home affordable for the families we partner with.”

With this line of work comes its own unique challenges. Especially over the last few years, rising prices have resulted in “the extreme costs of materials.” Inflation impacting the cost of building materials and property values has certainly “made things more challenging,” the CEO said. Hiring talent for Habitat has also presented its own problems with the employment force shifting as time has gone on.

Inversely, Sutton’s line of work also carries with it a uniquely rewarding quality. “Every single family that we have the opportunity to partner with has a unique story in terms of how they come to us. I think the rewarding piece of the work that we do is at the conclusion of every home, we hold a small dedication ceremony. We hand over keys to the family. I always like to say that the handing over the keys is symbolic of breaking the cycle of poverty. Every time we have the opportunity to do that, it is just a rewarding day and a rewarding experience.”

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This particular Habitat affiliate will build 85 homes this year, with five of those likely being built in Hernando, according to the president and CEO. To grow the company, Sutton and Habitat put a focus on building “private-public partnerships” between the organization and the rest of the surrounding community. They have partnered with corporations, non-profits, and civic organizations, among others, while continuing to grow their staff. When Sutton took over the role of CEO ten years ago, his branch of Habitat only had 19 members. Today, they boast a staff of 70-plus and counting.

It is not just about numbers, though. Habitat Pinellas and West Pasco’s leaders are also careful to look for those that fit their vision for the future of the organization. “It has been making sure we have the right people on the bus that can advance the Habitat mission,” said Sutton. “Our goal here is to always serve more families, and I would like to think that the folks that call Habitat their work home are onboard with that mission and onboard with that goal.”

With Habitat’s recent resurgence into communities like those in Hernando and surrounding counties, they are “singularly focused on new home construction.” This means there will not be any rehab work or the establishment of a new thrift store in the absence of the original. This more focused approach allows Sutton and company to zero in on building new homes for locals. His goal is to begin construction on multiple new domiciles in the area by the end of this year.

In an email from Habitat’s Marketing and Public Relations Manager, Chris Torello, the organization anticipates that it will be able to build 18 homes over the next three years. The Habitat manager noted other important details about the company and CEO in his Wednesday email to the Sun.

The former Pinellas Habitat merged with the West Pasco County affiliate in 2019 and is one of the largest in the nation regarding new homes built per year. They are ranked top three in the production of houses out of 1,100 affiliates and will dedicate their 900th home on Friday, June 21 in Largo, Florida. Habitat’s homeownership program is not free, though. The candidates are required to go through a rigorous qualification process. Under Sutton’s leadership, his affiliate has grown from $5 million in revenue to $35 million-plus.

The organization is dedicated to helping the community through its building programs and looks forward to the future in Hernando County. “We are excited about what the future holds, and we are excited about the opportunity to bring our mission and the work that we do into Hernando County.”

Photo Credit: Habitat Pinellas West Pasco
Photo Credit: Habitat Pinellas West Pasco
Photo Credit: Habitat Pinellas West Pasco
Photo Credit: Habitat Pinellas West Pasco
Photo Credit: Habitat Pinellas West Pasco
Photo Credit: Habitat Pinellas West Pasco

Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch is a Graduate with Distinction, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. He's written numerous articles reporting on Florida Gators football, basketball, and soccer teams; the sports of rugby, basketball, professional baseball, hockey, and the NFL Draft. Prior to Hernando Sun he was a contributor to ESPN, Gainesville, FL and Gator Country Multimedia, Inc. in Gainesville, FL, and Stadium Gale.
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