Not-so-typical developer builds affordable housing project with a twist in Wimauma | Business Observer

About 10 days before the inauguration of the works, Michael Morina and Vanessa Josey are still working to collect the collateral documents.

They’re waiting for the final renders, there’s a mad rush for a one-map site. And then, of course, there’s the matter of getting the word out.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve never talked to someone who had so little to show him,” Morina told a visitor.

Alas, it’s the labors and strains of a developer as the clock – quickly – counts down to when years of hard work and preparation are finally rewarded with an unveiling of plans and a ceremonial launch. earth.

But Morina, 66, and Josey, 41, are not typical developers. And their reward for all the hard work leading up to this point is non-monetary. Their reward is knowing that people who otherwise might never have been able to buy a home will now have a place of their own.

The couple run Florida Home Partnership, a Ruskin nonprofit that works to build affordable housing and qualify people living in rural Hillsborough County to buy a home. The organization’s latest project, the one the couple were planning for grand opening that day in mid-June, is a 38-home development in Wimauma.

Florida Home Partnership began in 1993 and to date has helped approximately 1,000 families and individuals purchase homes. It had $10.47 million in assets in its last financial year, according to public records.

In this rural part of the county and state, many of the people Florida Homeworks works with are farmhands, but as prices have risen and owning a home has become more difficult, the pool of people in need increases.

“We have teachers, we have people in the medical field, we have policemen. They’re not, you know, the people you think of,” says Morina, the organization’s executive director.

“We’ve done surveys and people (think) affordable housing is for people in Section 8, people on food stamps. It’s not true. I mean, we have receptionists, we have people from all walks of life. These are people who work every day but cannot afford to live elsewhere.

“There was just an explosion, you know. It’s amazing what happened. »

The program

Miles and a world away from downtown Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota and Bradenton, the residents of this rural corner of Hillsborough struggle with the same issues as their city brethren. House and land prices have risen sharply as newcomers arrive and crowd out residents, making it harder for people already in a hurry to buy a home.

Florida Home’s job, Morina says, is to help match those who need help buying a home with the United States Department of Agriculture’s self-contained housing program.

In his role, the work of the organization mirrors that of a typical developer. She buys land, draws up the plans for the property, gets the development approved and finds buyers.

The big difference between him and the traditional developer is who the buyers are and their responsibilities once they’ve been approved.

Magnolia Garden Square in Wimauma is a new 38-home community being built by Florida Home Partnership. (Courtesy rendering)

While many traditional developers work on affordable housing projects, Florida Home seeks out and attracts low-income workers who need help understanding what it takes to buy a home and how to qualify. This can include how to find down payment help, credit repair, and lessons on budgeting. It’s not uncommon for them to work with a buyer for a few years before that person can actually qualify.

At a minimum, he interviews and starts working with 10 people a week, about eight of whom have credit or income issues to overcome before qualifying. By mid-June, there were over 100 people on a waiting list for housing.

Once buyers reach the point where they can qualify, Florida Home submits them to the USDA for financing approval. Once approved, buyers, through the grant process, build the homes themselves.

Yes. You read correctly. Buyers are building their own homes.

you build it

The USDA’s self-help housing program began about 60 years ago. Florida Home, on its website, equates the program’s requirement that the buyer take the initiative in construction to “Quakers’ barn elevations where neighbors build their neighborhoods together.”

The construction itself is overseen by family construction coordinators, who work with six to 10 families in building their new homes. New owners can bring in family and friends to help out, and according to Florida Home, new neighbors are stepping in. The organization also provides technical assistance.

Even with the assistance, the new owner is required to invest at least 600 hours in building their home.

While it might be unusual, especially for those who need to call a guy for basic household repairs, the process creates a sense of ownership and pride, says Josey, COO of Florida Home.

And she knows this from first-hand experience.

Josey took the program about 20 years ago. She was single at the time and “had no idea” of the construction process or the work required. But she persevered and ended up putting 1,000 hours into her home. It was empowering and taught her skills she might never have learned otherwise.

She sold the house about seven years ago and not only became an executive at Florida Home, but also to buy another house, get married and have two children.

And when it comes to household repairs, her husband, she says, “has no idea what it is.”

“And I’m like, ‘Oh, we can do this for sure. I built my house.


Florida Home’s latest project, one the staff is working to set up from Ruskin’s office, is Magnolia Garden Square in Wimauma.

Wimauma runs along the 301 in southern Hillsborough near Manatee County. That’s 75% Hispanic with 32% of households living below the poverty line, according to the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The median household income is $49,293, lower than Florida’s median household income of $57,703.

In October, Hillsborough County Commissioners approved the Wimauma Village Plan which aims, through nine goals and strategies, to “strengthen community character, promote the development of a town centre, promote economic development, establish design standards” and more.

Magnolia Green, being built on 7 acres at the southeast corner of 12th and Vel streets, will be 38 new homes, villas and townhouses, for families earning 80% or less of the median income.

The original plan was to build only townhouses in order to create density. But as the process progressed, Morina and Josey realized a few more people could fit in by packing into townhouses. Still, it would make it harder to create a sense of community

They were convinced that Magnolia Garden needed this, that it needed to be a similar style, albeit smaller, neighborhood to Bayou Pass Village that Florida Home built in Ruskin. This community, just down the street from the Florida Home office, is filled with amenities built near blocks of single-family homes that you only know are affordable housing because someone told you.

The decision was made that more green spaces were needed, as well as spaces for community gatherings, to create that neighborhood feeling. To do this, Florida Home had to sacrifice building on a sort of island in one corner of the property, a space that could have held four townhouses.

“But we were ready to do it. Because quality is much more important to us,” says Morina. “The thing is, we’re not taking advantage of any additional units because we’re not taking advantage of any detached houses.”

When complete, the community, according to Florida Home, will feature native Florida plants, shaded walkways, and pergolas designed to “enhance the community aspect of its residents.” In addition, individual homes will be equipped with “healthy living features” to improve air quality and natural light.

The community will be developed with the help of a $240,000 loan from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program.

Florida Home, after the mad rush a few days prior, held the groundbreaking ceremony on Magnolia Garden on June 24. And that done, the difference between him and other developers will again be in the foreground. This is because you won’t see rows of villas springing up at breakneck speed. What you’ll see, instead, are families, individuals, and neighbors working together to build an old-fashioned community, together.

The hope is that construction will start by the end of the year.

As for Morina and Josey, they are already thinking about what to do next.

About Elizabeth Fisk

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