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Habitat chapter seeks to rebuild

Pinellas Habitat for Humanity has been around north Pinellas for years but has accomplished relatively little.

Consider this: the nonprofit organization hasn't built any homes in Tarpon Springs, Palm Harbor, Oldsmar, Ozona or Safety Harbor in the past two years.

By comparison, St. Petersburg and Clearwater have been hotbeds of construction, with 13 homes completed during the same time. Four more are under construction.

Now the organization is trying to remarshal its troops in north Pinellas and has opened an office in the Church of the Bayou on Whitcomb Boulevard in Tarpon Springs.

Volunteers are establishing their own board of directors and setting themselves up as an official north Pinellas chapter of Pinellas Habitat. They are working to expand their volunteer base outward from Tarpon Springs to other areas.

"This organization is in a position right now to grow exponentially," said Barbara Inman, executive director of Pinellas Habitat, which is based in Largo. "We have a group of excited people up there who want to put more focus on it."

They are considering setting up a home improvement center where the public can drop off building materials that the nonprofit can use during construction or sell to make money.

Over the past two decades, Pinellas Habitat for Humanity has built 107 homes.

But just two Habitat homes have been built in Tarpon Springs, on Grosse Avenue, off Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in the Union Academy neighborhood. A parcel of land on Grosse Avenue is ready for development, one family is on the waiting list and the north Pinellas chapter is raising funds with the hope of building a third house late this fall.

"The only reason we don't have more (on the waiting list) is we have not tried a campaign to select families up there because we don't have land to build on," Inman said.

It's harder to build in north Pinellas because land is more expensive and Habitat hasn't been able to secure the subsidies and grants that St. Petersburg and Clearwater have given, Inman said.

The new chapter, North Pinellas Habitat for Humanity, will help Habitat build relationships with local officials, Inman said.

"It's just a matter of more feet on the street, trying to provide decent housing," she said. "People are out there looking for land and talking to the cities."

In the last eight months, they have grown from a group of five or six volunteers to 25.

The volunteers, most of whom live in Tarpon Springs, have traditionally focused on building in that city. But in the next two months, they will be visiting churches to recruit new volunteers elsewhere.

Habitat for Humanity affiliates all over the country have been decentralizing by setting up chapters in new regions of the counties in which they operate, Inman said.

"It's a good way to expand without adding to your overhead," she said.

The new chapter will share Pinellas Habitat's accountant and pool its donations with the existing organization, but the north Pinellas chapter will select its own families and sites.

The chapter began as a committee four years ago, but lacked the visibility and man power to do much, said Ron Haddad, chairman of North Pinellas Habitat for Humanity.

"The chapter has given a group of people in north county not only the approval but the mandate to build," he said.

To learn more, call North Pinellas Habitat for Humanity at 939-3010 or check online at www.nphfh.org.

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