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Habitat for Humanity opens homeownership program for Orlando and Osceola County

A Central Florida woman receives the keys to her brand new house from Habitat for Humanity Orlando and Osceola County on Friday, Dec. 8, 2023. The home was built in just two weeks by Williams Company during the organization's Home for the Holidays 2023 event.
Photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity Orlando and Osceola County
A Central Florida woman receives the keys to her brand new house from Habitat for Humanity Orlando and Osceola County on Friday, Dec. 8, 2023. The home was built in just two weeks by Williams Company during the organization's Home for the Holidays 2023 event.

Habitat for Humanity Greater Orlando & Osceola County announced it will be accepting applications for their homeownership program, set to re-open Jan. 2.

Since it first opened 37 years ago, the nonprofit opens the program every year to help people with low income attain homeownership. This time, the event happened to align with the New Year.

Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Gallagher said many working families have resolutions to own a home in 2024, but they find themselves facing Central Florida’s housing crisis.

“We want people to have affordable housing — to have that long term stability, to build that equity, and to help address the issues in our community that are affecting everybody. That’s what we are really here to respond to,” she said.

Gallagher said that this year the organization will be accepting 500 applications, though that does not mean they will be building 500 homes. She said those numbers depend on their resources for the year, such as donations, grants, and manpower.

“It's expensive to build a home. It's expensive to have homeownership. And so, through community support, we're able to build a certain number of homes each year. And based on how many homes we have is how many folks we can take into our program,” she said.

According to Catherine Steck McManus, president and chief executive officer at Habitat, the need for affordable housing is spreading.

This, she said, is what moved the organization to launch their Face the Housing Crisis initiative in August — an exhortation for community members to acknowledge the urgency of housing in Central Florida, and also a play on words.

“For decades, there has been a group of very low, extremely low income individuals who have been struggling to find housing that is affordable to them. Unfortunately, over time, we have not decreased the number of people who need housing that is affordable to them; it has only increased. So, for instance, we now have firefighters, nurses, public school teachers who need housing affordability because their income cannot afford what is the average priced entry level home in our region,” McManus said. “And so, the face of affordable housing really isn't always who you think it is.”

McManus said other vulnerable people include young professionals fresh out of college, families whose homes have been devastated by storms, and older adults, the seniors, who cannot always easily find roommates or jobs to supplement their fixed incomes.

“Who needs housing that is affordable to them? It is all of us. I can't nowadays have a conversation with anyone without hearing it. When I say, ‘Do you know someone who is struggling with housing?’ Every single person from every different background and socioeconomic level personally knows someone who is struggling to find affordable housing,” McManus said.

Gallagher said they expect all 500 applications to go fast. To qualify, applicants need to meet income restrictions, be willing to volunteer some hours, and have a minimum 650 credit score. However, for those who do not meet those criteria, Habitat will redirect to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for housing counseling designed to help individuals work on their prerequisites.

Anyone interested is encouraged to visit the organization’s website.

Lillian Hernández Caraballo is a Report for America corps member.

Lillian (Lilly) Hernández Caraballo is a bilingual, multimedia journalist covering housing and homelessness for WMFE, as a Report for America corps member.
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