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Habitat rehab is dream home for St. Petersburg family

ST. PETERSBURG — Not all dreams have to be built from scratch. Some just need to be rehabilitated.

That's how LaQuanda Peterson's dream came true Saturday. She and her three children spent the day moving into their new home on the 4500 block of 25th Avenue S.

A Habitat for Humanity project, the house wasn't raised from the ground up like the organization's other homes. This one was already standing when it fell victim to the housing crisis.

It was sold at the peak of the housing bubble in 2005, but later went into foreclosure and was purchased by the bank last year.

Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County recently bought it back from the bank. Then volunteers spent five weeks rehabbing it into the first home the Peterson family can call its own.

"I've been smiling from ear to ear since Thursday," Peterson said.

The goal of Habitat's new Operation REhabitat is to start restoring homes abandoned and left derelict in the midst of the housing bust. And there are plenty to pick from these days. In Pinellas County alone, one out of every 352 homes is headed for foreclosure, according to the firm RealtyTrac.

Habitat is already rehabbing four more foreclosed properties.

"Essentially, this is our response to the conditions in the housing market," said Habitat's land development manager, Ron Spoor.

"It is our attempt to use donors' funds properly."

Putting families in these homes, Spoor said, benefits everyone: it gives first-time home buyers a good value; it stabilizes neighborhoods hit hard by the collapse of the real estate market; and it provides jobs for subcontractors who might otherwise be suffering during the building bust.

Habitat built 22 homes in Pinellas last year and will continue to build houses, such as a new subdivision planned in Dunedin. But Spoor said it's possible Habitat could end up rehabbing more homes than it builds.

"This is definitely a shift in our focus for the short term."

The Peterson family shared a small, cramped rental home before Saturday's move.

Now in the new 1,200-square-foot, three-bedroom home, 9-year-old Ja'Nyiah has his own bedroom and sisters Tariana, 7, and Deyonna, 6, will share another.

The home was in a state of "disrepair and neglect," Spoor said. It needed a new roof and new exterior paint, tan with white trim. New appliances were donated, and new white tile laid next to freshly painted white walls.

Habitat, which holds the mortgage on the house, ushered in the family with a ceremony Saturday morning. Gifts included a bookcase and a Bible. LaQuanda Peterson's mother bought a dining table and master bedroom set. Peterson bought her girls new beds.

Peterson, 30, is an office administrator at Bridges of America, a substance abuse treatment program.

But she's also a Habitat volunteer who has helped build houses for others. So she's already got some improvements in mind.

"I'm thinking about tiling the front step," she said, "and installing a privacy fence around the house."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

Habitat rehab is dream home for St. Petersburg family 04/04/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 4, 2009 9:35pm]
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