County Commission donates land to Habitat for Humanity

A small parcel of land in downtown Kissimmee was yanked from the auction block just in time for Osceola County to donate it to Habitat for Humanity.

County Commission Chairwoman Cheryl Grieb, a Realtor and a former Kissimmee city commissioner, helped facilitate the deal with the venerable nonprofit.

The property, little more than half an acre of vacant land on Brack Street just north of U.S. Highway 192, is well suited for townhome development, according to Habitat for Humanity Greater Orlando & Osceola County.

Affordable housing is a top priority in Osceola, “so it was an easy yes from rest of the (county) commission when asked about this lot,” Grieb told the News-Gazette.

Located in the heart of Kissimmee’s Vine Street Community Redevelopment Area, city officials also were instrumental in helping Habitat for Humanity secure the property, said President and CEO Catherine Steck McManus.

“We are humbled to be part of it because affordable housing is a collaborative issue in Osceola,” she said. “Everyone is working on creative solutions and talking about what works and what doesn’t.”

McManus and her staff went on a “listening tour” in the summer after Habitat for Humanity Greater Orlando expanded its geographical service area to include Osceola County. The former local affiliate, established in 1996, was disbanded.

“We didn’t want to just come in and say this is what we’re doing. We want to be a part of the community,” McManus said.

Partnering with other local nonprofits, such as the Community Hope Center and the Osceola Council on Aging, is also vital to Habitat’s success in Osceola, she said.

The nonprofit has spent time analyzing the needs and demographics specific to Osceola County, such as the large number of hurricane evacuees from Puerto Rico and the concentrated tourism corridor along Highway 192, where motels essentially have become one-bedroom apartments for families and individuals struggling to find affordable rent.  

“We don’t just want to address the issue, we want to resolve it. We joke here at Habitat that we wish we were out of a job,” McManus said.

Habitat for Humanity International, the umbrella organization, was founded in 1976. The nonprofit builds houses for those in need and then sells the houses to homeowner partners. Because of Habitat’s no-profit, no-interest loans, and because houses are built principally by volunteers, mortgage payments are affordable for people unable to obtain a home through conventional financing.

The average monthly mortgage payment for families in homes built and sold by Habitat for Humanity Greater Orlando & Osceola homes is $520, according to the organization.

The multi-family development on Brack Street will likely fit between seven and 10 townhomes.

While Habitat for Humanity Greater Orlando & Osceola County has built three single-family home communities in Orange County, “this was the perfect way for us to start in Osceola,” she said.

The organization closed both of its ReStore retail stores at the end of January to focus on its affordable housing mission.

Between its building arm and its Neighborhood Revitalization program, Habitat built and sold 29 homes to qualified families last fiscal year and repaired another 91 existing homes.

“It’s not just about building homes and putting families in them,” she said. It’s a hand-up model that empowers people and communities.”