No place like home: Partnership rebuilds house for 80-year-old resident

Kissimmee resident Vivian Brinson looks around her reconstructed home on Mann Street with friends and family on July 18.

Assisted by her great-grandniece, Vivian Brinson entered her newly reconstructed home on July 18 nearly a year after her previous home had to be demolished.

Surrounded by her nieces, nephews and other family and friends, Brinson, 80, gazed around the living room that replaced the dilapidated space that was previously rendered inhabitable.

“I just can’t explain it. I wish I could,” Brinson said, trying to find the words about her new home. “I just want to thank everybody so much.”

Thanks to a collaboration between the city of Kissimmee, using State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) funds, and Habitat for Humanity Orlando and Osceola County, Brinson was able to get the relief she needed.

Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez praised such collaborations as a way to demonstrate “how governments and nonprofits can work together to keep families in their homes.”

After the roof on her 1964 house on Mann Street began to leak and the ceiling collapsed in her kitchen and bedroom two years ago, a friend suggested Brinson apply through the city for a grant to help with the cost of repairs.

“It was really bad,” Brinson, who had lived in the house since 1993, said. “Living is just so expensive and I couldn’t (repair) everything at once.”

City building officials toured her home and determined the water damage was too severe to repair. Brinson was told she would have to move out but her home would be replaced with a brand new three-bedroom, two-bathroom house. The new structure cost $168,000.

A complete reconstruct is unusual for the program as the grant typically covers home repairs, according to Betsy Culpepper, vice president of marketing and communication for Habitat for Humanity Orlando and Osceola County.

Due to its unique situation, the Brinson home stands out from other Habitat for Humanity projects.

While the organization conjures images of community volunteers raising walls and hammering in roof shingles, due to the tight timeframe, Habitat reached out to local subcontractors to complete the job.

The home design also needed to match the existing neighborhood, which lies in the city’s downtown Community Redevelopment District, as well as be modified to meet Brinson’s needs.

Brinson, known as Auntie in the neighborhood, uses a cane and had several discs removed from her back. She required a space where she could have some independence in her movement.

“One thing I really wanted and needed was a walk-in shower,” she said. “Oh my god, it’s so nice. I just appreciate it so much.”

After the grant was approved, a nephew removed most of her furniture due to water damage, preserving priceless family photos and Brinson’s bedroom set.   

Since returning to her new home, Brinson has slowly begun to replace her furniture, going shopping with family and accepting small items from friends. She is in most need of living and dining room sets.

“I need to start from scratch,” she said.  

A life-long resident of Kissimmee, Brinson hosted countless family gatherings at her home as well as opened her space to her nieces and nephews to stay over.

“This has always been a home to them,” she said. “My old place was the family place – birthdays, holidays. I know everybody is glad to start back on that.”

The Brinson rehabilitation project is one of two in the city where SHIP funds are being used to reconstruct houses.

“I’d like to thank the state and call out to those that are in need of the same type of services to look at our application process and give it a go if you got a need to renovate or reconstruct a home you are living in because the dollars are there,” said Kissimmee City Manager Mike Steigerwald. “We have a program. We can help.”