Story and photos by Rebecca Anderson
For the residents of Habitat for Humanity’s new Bayside Landing development on Big Coppitt Key, their hours of “sweat equity” have built more than just homes; they have built a family.
On Saturday, May 22, volunteers, community leaders, families, came together to dedicate the new Habitat for Humanity development, which is nearing completion. Although the houses still lack appliances and the comforts that will make these places home, the families have already formed a close-knit community.
Nichelle Mullen and her son Bryce are one of the 16 families that will make Bayside Landing their home later this year. Mullen, who is a hairstylist and manager of Super Cuts in Key West, was born and raised on the island, but states that she could not afford to be a homeowner if it were not for Habitat for Humanity.
“You do work for it, and there’s no other way I could get this if it weren’t for Habitat for Humanity because of the cost of living, being a single parent and working as hard as I can, diligently,” she states. “It’s a blessing, it’s truly a blessing. Everyone treats you as if they’re your family, I mean, that’s what Habitat is all about: it’s about family. It’s about helping and God.”
Mullen became involved with the Habitat for Humanity program in November of 2009 after hearing about it from a friend.
“There was another family that had been involved before the groundbreaking… and they got me involved right after Thanksgiving. To my surprise, I was accepted, so and I’ve been working,” says Mullen. “And when they say ‘sweat equity,’ they mean ‘sweat equity,’” she laughs.
The term “sweat equity” refers to Habitat for Humanity’s requirement that families give 350 hours of service to the organization to qualify for home ownership.
When the Mullen was accepted to the Habitat for Humanity program, it was also a special present for six-year-old Bryce. “We found out a week a week after his birthday,” said Mullen. “My son is an only child. He says he wants brothers and sisters, and now he’s going to grow up with a whole neighborhood full of them.”
Habitat for Humanity homeowner Eileen Quinn also believes that the sense of community, connectedness, and family are some of the greatest strengths of the program. “We’ll guide the children as we grow together, we’ll see new babies, and we’ll watch the kids get dressed up, go to their proms, and go to college. In many ways, the partner families will be our extended families,” says Quinn. “I couldn’t have picked better neighbors if I did it myself. We’re all just bursting with an attitude of gratitude,” she adds.
Quinn is the Bayside Landing Homeowner Representative to the Board of Directors for Habit for Humanity. She works as a secretary for Unity of the Keys and has two children, John, age 16, and Mary Claire, who is nine.
Quinn states that one of the misperceptions of Habitat for Humanity is that people think these homes are free.
“They’re not,” says Quinn. “They’re affordable because we do the sweat equity and the monthly mortgage payments are affordable because of the low interest loans available through the Habitat for Humanity program.”
She further explains that Habitat for Humanity’s motto is “it’s a hand up, not a hand out.”
“I think that helps people know that their support is really important,” says Quinn. “None of us are on welfare. We’re all working people,” she states.
Mullen, Quinn, and other neighbors from Bayside Landing agree that homeownership would be an “impossible dream” without Habitat for Humanity and Monroe County Commissioner George Neugent agrees.
“As everyone knows, housing is just—whether it be rental units or whether it be home ownership units, in the marketplace, are just impossible to afford,” says Neugent. “These homes, especially for younger people who are going to matriculate through the system and get newer and higher paying jobs, they’re great starter homes. They’re great homes for everyone.”
Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Bob Calhoun explains that in spite of the work from Monroe County and financial and construction partners, “the heart and soul were the people, particularly the families, who have invested their lives, time, their sweat equity and their future” into the Bayside Landing project.
Habitat for Humanity plans to begin work on a second development on Big Coppitt, as well as one in Key West, on Eisenhower Avenue. Families and volunteers urge the public to help with the project. Nichelle Mullen states: “If you’re not a part of Habitat for Humanity, you’re missing a great part of life, because it’s a beautiful thing.”
Nichelle Mullen and her son Bryce, who will make Bayside Landing their home
Habitat for Humanity Partner Families cutting the cake at Saturday’s dedication ceremony
Habitat homeowner Bobbie Gilbert at her house blessing