For 40 years, Habitat for Humanity of Broward has sought to put God’s love into action by building homes, communities and hope during times of need. Established in 1983 by members of First Presbyterian Church of Fort Lauderdale, Habitat Broward built some of its first homes for families displaced by Hurricane Andrew. Today they are on the front lines of the battle for affordable homeownership as Broward has become one of the most cost burdened housing markets in the nation, placing homeownership out of reach for 94 percent of families.
“With the median priced home in Broward jumping to $585,000, a family has to be making well into six figures in order to purchase a home in our market,” said Nancy Robin, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Broward. “And while there are some rentals going up, legislation being passed and incentives going forward, that has not happened for homeownership. So right now, Habitat may be the one viable alternative working people have as a path to homeownership, and we see it in the numbers.”
During the last enrollment period, Habitat Broward received 34,000 applications for the 60 homes currently in development. However, Thor Barraclough, chief programs officer for Habitat for Humanity of Broward, said “We’re growing to match the need, and those applicants didn’t go away empty handed. They also receive education on how to get into the housing market… Many apply again, and those families selected recognize the opportunity they’ve been given and work bloody hard for it.”
On a national level, Habitat for Humanity was founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller after visiting Koinonia Farm, a community farm outside of Americus, Georgia, founded by farmer and biblical scholar Clarence Jordan. Their concept of “partnership housing” centered on those in need of adequate shelter working side by side with volunteers to build decent, affordable houses at no profit. New homeowners’ house payments would be combined with no-interest loans provided by supporters and money earned by fundraising to create “The Fund for Humanity,” which would then be used to build more homes.
That model continues today, and Habitat for Humanity now has 1,200 U.S. affiliates. Habitat Broward is listed among their top 40 most productive, with more than 700 homes built during its 40-year history.
In 2017, Habitat Broward broke ground on their largest build ever: 76 homes at A Rick Case Habitat Community in Pompano Beach during a ceremony attended by Governor Rick Scott. The total project is estimated to cost over $18 million in funds raised and leveraged through partnerships. The organization recently celebrated the completion of 15 of those homes during a historic dedication ceremony in April, five more will be completed in September and the final 14 homes are expected to be finished by May 2024. “However, we’re not resting on our laurels,” said Barraclough. In fiscal year 2023, there are plans to break ground on 20 units in Fort Lauderdale, 13 units in Coral Springs and eight homes in North Lauderdale, while finishing seven homes in Deerfield Beach, “which points to how these cities have embraced the affordable homeownership movement,” he added.
Robert Taylor, first vice chair and a former chairman of the board for Habitat Broward is president of Burdette Beckman, Inc. (BBI), which has built 23 Habitat homes over the past 12 years. Taylor said, “We’re breaking ground in September on a 20-home village called BBI Village in Fort Lauderdale that will be the biggest one we’ve done with Habitat in one fell swoop.” BBI is underwriting the infrastructure for the development, which will be located near Mills Pond Park.
Why is he so committed to the mission of Habitat for Humanity? “Being Christians ourselves, putting your faith in action is something my family has always believed in, and housing is such a critical issue, particularly in our county. Plus, it’s a beautiful model because people earn things. They’re not just given them… Everybody we bring into Habitat finds it is such a compelling and powerful way to help. We all should give, but giving with a purpose and intentionality that really helps people and their families long term, that’s a beautiful thing, and that’s what habitat has found a way to do.”
One Homeowners Journey
“It has been amazing for my family,” said Theo Lyons. He and his wife are both employees of Broward County Schools and had three young children between the ages of seven and one when they applied for a Habitat home in 2017.
“At the time, my wife was not working, so it was a lot for a single salary home with five people, and our rent just kept skyrocketing. We were caught up in the rental rat race and could no longer afford to rent, so we moved out with some friends of ours who were pastors and during the building process, my wife and children ended up going to stay with her parents.”
Of the 7,000 applicants who applied, the Lyons were approved for the program and received one of the inaugural 12 homes in A Rick Case Habitat Community, where they have lived since 2019.
“Since we’ve been in our home, my wife and I both completed bachelor’s degrees and we start masters programs in the fall. We know we wouldn’t be in the position we were to go back to school, but Habitat made that dream of homeownership a reality for us. It’s brought stability to our home, our marriage and our children. And we’re super grateful for having been participants in the program and for our sponsors: Robert Taylor and BBI.”
Who gets a Habitat home?
Most Habitat Homeowners are hard working families like the Lyons, often employed in teaching and education, healthcare or local government, who have been priced out of homeownership or face difficult family situations.
Habitat for Humanity does not give away homes. In fact, Habitat Homeowners help build their homes and the homes of others, investing a minimum of 350 hours of sweat equity on construction sites. Eligible future homeowners must attend 12 months of financial and life-skills education classes, and they pay a manageable down payment on the home before assuming a low or no interest mortgage, subsidized by Habitat for Humanity of Broward with no closing costs. Habitat ensures affordable mortgages are kept to no more than 30 percent of the household gross income.
To qualify as a future Habitat Homeowner, applicants must exhibit a real need, meet income requirements, pass background checks and receive a home visit.
“The need is so great, but the families that qualify are ready,” said Robin. “The homeowners that are selected are extraordinary and their vision is so strong.”
Barraclough added, “Their entrance also represents the whole family – four, five, six or seven family members, creating generational wealth.”
Habitat families begin with vision boarding and education, including a Youth Empowerment Program that mirrors the adult curriculum future homeowners receive for lasting impact.
The impact of a Habitat Homeownership
A study conducted by the Jorge Perez Metropolitan Center at Florida International University found that Habitat Homeownership improved family health, education, quality of life and wealth creation while raising neighborhood home values, employment rates and the tax base.
The study found that 93 percent of Habitat homeowners reported their household was healthier after moving in. Eighty-one percent of parents felt comfortable with their children playing outside. Sixty-five percent report their family is safer. Eighty-seven percent feel they have true stability and Fifty-three percent of children’s grades improved.
After moving into their Habitat homes, 79 percent of Habitat homeowners said they feel relaxed and confident about their finances compared to 48 percent before. And 82 percent of Habitat homeowners said they are now able to make steps toward future goals, compared to 60 percent before.
Habitat ownership not only builds family wealth, but it also increases neighborhood wealth. For example, home values surrounding the Rick Case Habitat Community in Pompano Beach increased in value 44 percent more than the city average, according to the study.
From a business perspective, the Jorge Perez Metropolitan Center study concluded, “While the effects of owning an affordable home are vast and often invaluable, at the heart of this effort is the enablement of economic mobility and resiliency.”
It is also being embraced by the Church. In 2016, 13 churches joined forces to construct a home in Oakland Park as part of an Apostles Build, including Christ the Rock Community Church, West Pines Community Church, Living Word Open Bible, Parkridge Church, Church of the Holy SpiritSong, Plantation United Methodist, Real Life Church of Coconut Creek, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Parkway Christian Church, Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, Christ Church United Methodist, First Presbyterian Church of Fort Lauderdale and Saint Anthony Catholic Church.
Rob Pacienza, pastor, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, said., “We were part of the Apostle Build. We’ve gotten behind our second build, and we’ve been instrumental in trying to get other churches in the in the region behind habitat.
By partnering with Habitat for Humanity, Pacienza said, “The church is not only restoring human souls but also restoring neighborhoods, communities, homes and families to show that Jesus is not just relevant in our personal spiritual lives, but also our public physical lives. Habitat for Humanity of Broward gives the church an opportunity to show the world that Christ changes everything, and ultimately does provide for the least of these.”
Kathy Craven, a lifelong member and deacon at First Presbyterian Church of Fort Lauderdale, has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity since 1992 and recalls when a member of their church, Attorney Bill Zeiher, helped found the Broward affiliate in 1983. “We do a lot of mission work at our church and Habitat for Humanity of Broward is our standard bearer mission,” said Craven. The church has built 20 Habitat homes since its inception and will break ground on their 21st home this year.
“I got involved because of hurricane Andrew and was going down to Dade County to do repair work.” Then the church used excess hurricane relief funds to build two of their early Habitat homes in Dania for families displaced by the storm.
A volunteer army
Kraven has been volunteering with Habitat Broward on builds almost every Saturday since then, previously served on the board for 20 years and is currently a construction lead for volunteers. “As a Fort Lauderdale native, I wanted to give back to the community,” she said, “And at the end of the day, there’s a lot of gratification because you can see what you’ve accomplished.”
“We’ve got this rich history of volunteer leadership. That’s one of the things that makes Habitat so unique. We literally are a volunteer army,” said Robin. Last year alone 8,000 volunteers contributed more than 45,000 hours of service to the cause.
Nancy Robin describes their construction site as a spiritual place. “We start our builds in the morning with a circle of prayer and it is a place that is leveling the playing field. You are building with homeowners and fellow volunteers from every walk of life including business leaders who are running multi-million-dollar corporations. It just brings out everybody and levels it.”
Habitat for Humanity homes are built primarily by volunteers with skilled construction staff and volunteer leaders providing training and supervision. Team Build Days are a wonderful opportunity for corporations, churches and organizations to give back to the community while building a stronger, more connected team.
“The CEO Build is a classic example of that where 50 top CEOs from Broward, representing over one third of our workforce between them, come out to lead from the front. Many of them have Habitat families employed by their businesses,” said Robin. “Brent Burns (CEO of JM Family Enterprises, Inc.) and Keith Koenig (Chairman of City Furniture) have been the chairs of that event every year and have been involved with Habitat for decades. They leverage it as team building because when you are on a roof working with your staff and leaders, you bond in a way that’s different than other circumstances.”
We asked Nancy Robin what she sees as the greatest challenge facing the Habitat Broward going forward.
“The greatest challenge is the sheer need in our community and land is a huge part of that. We are a coastal community that is highly populated with very little land, so that means finding new partners. We have some interesting relationships we’re building now with our faith partners to see how we can use land with them in ways that nourish the church and also allow for affordable housing. The only way we can do the work is through the blessing of partnerships, so we continue to work with our faith partners and municipalities for vacant land.”
However, Robin said her greatest joy is providing hope. “I think keeping the dream of homeownership alive for working families is what keeps us going. The inspiration is how giving our community is. Whether it’s our faith community, business partners, or youth who continue to help improve the lives of others, we don’t do this alone.”
How can you get involved?
- Sponsor a home or partner with others to sponsor a home. $100,000 sponsors one home.
- Give financially or donate land to fuel more building
- Donate to or shop at the Habitat ReStore. Located at 505 W. Broward Blvd., Habitat ReStore is a home improvement store and donation center that sells new and gently used furniture, appliances, home accessories, building materials and more to the public, with all proceeds benefiting the charity.
- Volunteer onsite or in one of the many support roles to continue Habitat’s mission.
Visit habitatbroward.org to learn more.