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Habitat for Humanity organizations in Pinellas and Pasco counties merge

Mike Sutton, president and CEO of the newly merged Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties. [Courtesy of Michael Sutton]
Published Mar. 1

CLEARWATER — Two Tampa Bay Habitat for Humanity organizations announced their merger today, citing the goal of serving more families in need of affordable housing.

Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County and Habitat for Humanity of West Pasco County, which have served a combined 697 families over the years, will now combine forces.

The decision was made by the boards of the two nonprofits in order to have "the deepest impact in the community," said Mike Sutton, whose role as CEO of the Pinellas County organization will expand to include overseeing the West Pasco operation. Kobus Appelgrijn, CEO of Habitat West Pasco, is retiring.

No jobs will be lost because of the newly created Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties, said Sutton, who has headed the Pinellas organization for five years. There are currently 56 employees in Pinellas and 12 in Pasco, but the volunteer-driven organization expects to add two to three new positions in Pasco almost immediately.

"We are going to be hiring a director-level position, which will be a community-focused role, and we will be hiring numerous construction staff members,'' Sutton said. "We expect our workforce to grow as the program is able to reach more families."

"We don't anticipate any change in service in Pinellas. Where we will see some significant growth will be in Pasco County."

The West Pasco operation spans an area from the Suncoast Parkway to the Gulf of Mexico.

Habitat Pinellas was established in 1985. Last October, it celebrated the completion of its 500th home – yellow, with three bedrooms and two baths — built in St. Petersburg for a single mother and her two young sons. Fifteen more homes have been built since.

Besides building houses in Pinellas County and providing needed repairs for others, Habitat Pinellas helps to build homes overseas.

"Every time we build a home in Pinellas County, we send funds to build a house overseas," Sutton said, adding that the local organization partners with Habitat in the African nation of Malawi to the build homes that cost approximately $3,500 each. Habitat West Pasco, which was started in 1993, recently launched a five-year project to revitalize the Town and Country Villas area in New Port Richey.

Sutton said the area, surrounded by thriving businesses and retail, has been neglected for many years. Habitat is working with Pasco County to revitalize the neighborhood and has bought about 45 lots for single family homes, he said.

"We've been slowly removing the dilapidated homes and we broke ground on the very first house Habitat will build there," he said. "Over the next four to five years, we will transform that community with affordable and workforce housing."

In Pinellas County, the plan is to build 60 to 65 new homes this year.

Previous coverage: Mayors lay sod, give finishing touches to Clearwater Habitat for Humanity home

Families who want Habitat homes must be approved for the program and are accepted based on need and their ability to pay a mortgage. Homeowners have to save up $1,000 toward their down payment and are given a zero-interest mortgage. They are required to attend 20 classes and complete 350 to 450 hours referred to by Habitat as "sweat equity" hours. That includes working on their own home and those of others.

The newly merged Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties will operate out of a main office in Clearwater, an almost year-old center in St. Petersburg's Midtown area and another in New Port Richey.

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

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