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Habitat Pinellas makes dreams come true
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Photo courtesy of HABITAT FOR HUMANITY
Nina Nelson thanks volunteers who helped build her home accompained by Rosa Seguel-Meyer, first vice president and district manager for Chase Bank, who presented Nelson with the keys to her new home. Pictured at right are Nelson’s children, from left, Jada, 2, holding a key tied with a yellow ribbon; Julius, 8, and Alexia, 5, both holding a welcome mat that was given to the family.
When she was growing up, Nina Nelson of Largo had set a goal. She wanted to own her own home by the time she was 30. Now, at 28, that dream is a reality, thanks in part to Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County.

On March 23, the nonprofit organization held a dedication ceremony for the home at 5 Belle Meade Circle NW. and officially turned it over to Nelson and her three children.

“I’m so excited; I’m excited,” Nelson said. “I’m like a kid on Christmas morning.”

She smiled from ear to ear as she opened the door to her new home for the first time. Her children couldn’t wait to get inside, and once they did they ran from room to room screaming with delight.

“My son is about to have a meltdown,” she said.

Nelson and her children – Julius, 8, Alexia, 5, and Jada, 2 – had been living in a rented apartment in Largo, but Nelson realized it was time to move.

“I’ve been there for seven years,” she said. “But now, the kids need a backyard and a quiet place to ride their bikes. The upstairs neighbors are loud; it is too noisy. I just decided it was better to invest in my own home rather than paying rent to somebody else.”

But how is a single mother of three on a modest income supposed to be able to get a mortgage to buy a house? That’s where Habitat for Humanity comes in. The organization has been operating in Pinellas County since 1985. Their goal is to provide affordable homeownership to people such as Nelson, whose income makes it difficult to obtain a conventional mortgage.

But nothing is free. Robert Reeves, the organization’s vice president of homeowner services, said prospective homeowners have to qualify on a number of fronts, provide some of the money and work on their own.

“We break it down into three areas for qualification,” he said. “First, there is the need. Is their current accommodation lacking in some way, perhaps a leaky roof or not enough room? Then, there is the matter of income. They must be below the 80 percent mark of the income needed to qualify for a conventional mortgage.”

The most important qualification of all is a willingness to partner, Reeves said.

“They must be prepared to put in 250 hours of sweat equity,” he said. “Friends and family and co-workers can work off some of those hours but the homeowner – in this case, Nina – must be prepared to put in 100 hours on her own. And she must she prepared to put $500 toward closing costs of the mortgage.”

In Nelson’s case, she far exceeded the sweat equity hours, according to Reeves.

“Like all our new applicants, she had to do the first 100 hours for someone else, even before she was assigned a home. It is all part of giving back and it shows she was serious about the commitment.”

In addition, Nelson had to undergo 13 homeownership classes put on by Habitat. The classes are on such things as budgeting, maintenance, safety and parenting. Nelson did them all, and not everybody does.

“I would say we get about 10 qualified applications a month,” said Reeves. “They come from a monthly orientation session we have in which up to 30 people attended. In the end only four to six applicants actually qualify for a home.”

Once the home building starts, the real work begins.

“I was there from the first day when they dug the foundation,” said Nelson. “I did as much as I could and on days when I couldn’t stay, I would drop by with donuts just to let my friends who showed up to help know how much I appreciated them. It was a lot of fun and a good experience.”

The location of her new home is convenient, explained Nelson, who is a medical assistant.

“I work, like two minutes away,” said she. “And the kids’ school is just two minutes away as well.”

Habitat makes a point to consider the location within their program.

“We try as best we can to provide the homeowner with a location that suits them,” said Reeves.

An even bigger perk to owning a home built by Habitat is the interest free, 30-year mortgage the organization provides. For her home, Nelson will pay a little less than $700 a month including taxes. Had she taken out a conventional mortgage at 6 percent interest, it would have cost her more than $1,300 a month.

Nelson said she is so happy with her relationship with Habitat that she has already recommended the program to some of her friends. Similarly, it was her dedication to her goal of homeownership and her desire as a mother that her children live a good life that made the partnership work.

“Nina is precious,” said Reeves. “She and her family will be enriched with no rising rents to have to pay, no more moving around. She and her children will be able to build long-term relationships with their neighbors.”

The journey has been an emotional one.

“I remember when we told her about getting the home. Nina was in tears, tears of joy,” Reeves said.

Nelson remembered that moment.

“I was like, ‘oh my God.’ I prayed that I got through the next level and I prayed that everything would work out the way I wanted, and it did,” said Nelson.

She said she has found a neighborhood that is a safe place for her children to ride their bikes.

“I have been through here at various times of the day, and it is a quiet neighborhood,” she said. “I can’t complain.”

She certainly isn’t complaining about her new home.

“I love it, and the kids love it. It is going to be hard to get them out of the house now,” she said laughing.
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