Local News

First rebuilt home to be sold Friday

AVON PARK - John Hawthorne was at the work site on Wednesday, and so was the family who was earning sweat equity by painting the interior so 903 W. Bell St. would become their new address.

It's a Habitat project, so volunteers were there as well. What was unusual was the number of contractors and subs.

Highlands County Habitat for Humanity is hiring local contractors, who are employing subcontractors for plumbing, air conditioning, flooring, drywall, stucco and cabinetry.

The local Habitat has received eight foreclosed properties in the past six months through Bank of America's Donation Program, and $480,000 has been awarded from the National Mortgage Settlement Funds. That $25 billion pool of money was created from the settlement of a federal lawsuit with Ally/GMAC, Bank of America, Citibank, J.P. Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo. Habitat Florida shared $20 million with Habitat Highlands, which got $480,000.

"I've done two houses already, and I've got one more coming up," said David Marley, who operates his own roofing company with a crew of five. "It was a big shot in the arm to me."

Unlike Mason's Ridge, where Highlands Habitat built its own subdivision in east Sebring, the donated houses are in Sebring, Avon Park and Lake Placid.

"We've got them coming from all over the county," Hawthorne said. Some need minimal work, others are stripped to the bones and rebuilt, the most dilapidated are tear-downs.

The same goes for roofs, Marley said. "We may tear the roof off down to the plywood and replace the water-damaged wood, and then put a metal roof on." Unlike asphalt singles, galvanized metal can last a lifetime.

As houses are completed, they'll be sold to families already on Habitat's waiting list.

"We're closing on one Friday, and one more is coming up," Hawthorne said. That's the Avon Park house.

He hopes to finish six of the eight by June 2014, and the other two in August and September. Habitat Florida may reevaluate how well its local chapters are performing, and Hawthorne hopes he'll qualify for more funds then.

Volunteers still perform a majority of the work, Hawthorne said. Usually, Habitat's own contractor roofs the house, but Hawthorne is spreading the wealth by hiring the work done, and all materials that aren't donated are purchased locally.

"I think it's a good thing," said Marley. Like other local contractors, he found pickings slim when the housing boom of the mid-2000s busted in 2008. General contractors are just now starting to build new homes.

Roofers are usually on the job when other subs have finished and gone, but on any given day, he'll see eight or 10 workers at the Habitat remodels.

"It serves a lot of people that need help," Marley said. "They're putting people into homes that wouldn't be in homes."