DUNEDIN — Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas is known for building safe and affordable homes. But the organization might have outdone itself with Shady Grove Townhomes.
Pinellas Habitat's first multi-family development, the townhomes have welcoming front porches and metal roofs and sit amid moss-laden oaks, creating a picturesque scene that turns heads as people drive down Howell Street. But the benefits don't end with the homes' facades.
"A lot of what we have done is what you don't see," said Steve Lightburn, Pinellas Habitat's vice president of development. "Shady Grove Townhomes have earned Silver LEED certification."
The LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, program is a voluntary program encouraging builders to take a whole-home approach to sustainability and energy conservation. Higher standards must be met in categories including water efficiency, site choice and location, as well as energy use in finished products and building materials and indoor water quality. The program also includes green-living education classes for homeowners.
"Our homes are affordable and exceptional," said Ron Spoor, chief operations officer of Pinellas Habitat. "Our homeowners are also exceptional. They learn about their homes through sweat equity working beside contractors and volunteers. LEED requires homeowners attend 11 classes. Our homeowners participate in 13."
Interested in living in Shady Grove? Qualifying depends on income and family size.
"A family must earn 30 to 80 percent of the area's average median income," said Lightburn. "For a family of four, that would be $17,500 to $42,500. That's the No. 1 qualification because we do not give away homes. People pay for the homes. We don't give handouts; we give a hand up."
Just as the people who turn to Habitat have often seen tough times, so had that Dunedin property.
Shady Grove was once Highlander Village, a public housing complex. After three decades of housing seniors and low-income families, the buildings were in need of refurbishing. The high cost of removing lead paint and asbestos and refurbishing the dilapidated buildings led to a decision to relocate tenants and demolish the complex. The property sat as an eyesore until Habitat bid on the land in 2005.
Eventually, 19 residences will cover the 2.5 acres. Four families have moved in, and three more are waiting to move into the townhomes. The townhomes have three bedrooms with two baths or four bedrooms with two baths in 1,300 to 1,400 square feet. Each has a single-car garage and a front porch.
Yet many people who could qualify may not know that the development exists. On Saturday, Habitat held an open house for potential buyers, but only 12 people showed up.
Jennifer Brundon, 35, of Clearwater arrived early Saturday morning, but not to view the showcase home. She came to work with the crew building three more townhomes. Before noon, she had helped frame the inside walls of a bathroom. Soon, she will have her own Habitat home in Oldsmar.
"This work is a challenge, but it's an awesome opportunity," said Brundon. "My home in Oldsmar should be done by June or July. I'm here because the Habitat way is to help others. It's important to give back. I'm here to do what I can."
The Dunedin model shown during Saturday's open house was completely decorated, from drapes to flowers, and was built with double-hung windows, ceiling fans, color-coordinated Formica countertops, donated Caroma dual-flush toilets and energy-efficient Whirlpool stoves, refrigerators, washers and dryers.
Yet it might be what a buyer never sees that makes him or her smile.
Habitat homes are sold with zero-interest mortgages. Plus, according to Spoor, Habitat's attention to energy efficiency saves a homeowner about $1,030 a year in reduced energy and insurance costs.
"We work with people who are struggling, many times bringing themselves up by their bootstraps to a level where they can progress and do better than their preceding family members," said Lightburn.
"They are trying to work, go to school and raise a family," he said. "About 60 percent are single mothers, and having the opportunity to live in a safe and affordable home is really crucial to their success."