Guess what? Habitat is still helping homeowners recover from Irma - A group of people standing next to a fence - Roof

If you live in Monroe County, you know property is expensive, reliable construction crews are rare, and that a lot of homes are still in desperate need of repair after Hurricane Irma. What you might not know is that Habitat for Humanity of the Middle Keys can help you with all these problems. Yes, you. 

Habitat has expanded their home-building services to also perform affordable home repairs. Christine Todd Young, Executive Director of the Middle Keys branch, explains. “Habitat, along with UMCOR [(the United Methodists Committee on Relief)] and other organizations, became the Monroe County Long-Term Recovery Group. We work together with case managers and different entities to figure out who can best help our residents recover from Irma,” she says. “It’s a huge partnership of nonprofits trying to help our people, our community. But, nobody knows about it!”

Donna Lahey is one of the people that Habitat wants to help. A longtime Keys resident, Lahey has survived Hurricane George in 1998 (which ripped off the roof of her home), a brain tumor and breast cancer. She’s now cancer-free, but Hurricane Irma in 2017 ruined the deck of her home and destroyed the home of her daughter 3-year-old grandson, Chevi and Finnian Meister. 

They moved in with Lahey, who then worried about her grandson falling off her deck. “I registered with the United Methodists a year ago but they didn’t have work crew or money. I have just been waiting since the storm for help to repair my home,” says Lahey. She’d all but given up, until UMCOR coordinated with Habitat Middle Keys to repair her house. “They called me and said ‘Habitat has crew to help people. Do you want them to help with the house?,’” she says. “Of course I said, ‘Yeah!’ We’re all still recovering from the storm.”

The program, called “Habitat Hammers Back,” is funded through parent company Habitat International, and allows local Habitat branches like Young’s to provide repairs on a sliding scale based on household income. What that means, explains Young, is that anyone who needs help can get help. “No repair is too small for us. We take jobs that contractors won’t consider because they’re too small,” she says. “Most people will qualify for our program. There’s a huge disconnect where people don’t realize we’re now in the repair business too, along with building affordable homes for hardworking families.”

Repairs are completed up to code and with permits by Habitat volunteers and staff, and homeowners repay Habitat for the repairs with a 0% interest loan. The system mirrors Habitat’s home-building program, where services are a “hand-up” rather than a “handout.” 

“The porch just got done,” explains Lahey, calling from her final inspection. “From the first phone call until the work crew left last Thursday was just 30 days, including permitting. I was shocked!” Habitat Middle Keys can complete repairs quickly because they have openings in their pipeline, explains Young. “In the Keys, people struggle to find reliable crew to complete their jobs. We don’t have that problem. We have the volunteer manpower and lots of funding available, so if people came to us today, we could get them into the program and jump on it!,” she says.

Lahey wants to help spread the word. She says, “I’m telling everyone I know that Habitat helped me. I tell them to stop by and check out the house. Everyone needs to know about this!” Lahey remembers her own disbelief that she qualified for help from Habitat and now wants to help bust the myths about the non-profit. “Until someone goes through this process like me, it’s hard to believe that there is help we qualify for. Maybe I’ll apply to have Habitat fix a few blown-out windows downstairs too,” she adds.

Excited and relieved, Lahey tells the Weekly, “I’m so looking forward for Finn to have a nice, safe place to play. Maybe we can put a little pool on the deck, or a playground. We can all hang out and know that he will be safe.” The process has taken such a weight off Lahey that she’s even thinking of taking Habitat’s construction safety course to help others in her situation and to give back. “Who knows, maybe this will open up a whole new avenue for me to learn and help. I’m just so grateful.”

  1. MYTH: Habitat gives homes to poor people. 

BUSTED: Habitat homes are sold to hard working people and families with a 0% interest loan after a rigorous application process and completion of 350 sweat equity hours. They also have expanded their programs to include home repairs done on a sliding income scale. It’s a “hand-up” not a “handout.”

  1. MYTH: I didn’t buy my house from Habitat, so I don’t qualify. Habitat for Humanity of the Middle Keys only fixes homes they’ve built and sold.  

BUSTED: Since Hurricane Irma, Habitat Middle Keys has offered affordable home repair options done by professionals, up to code and quickly, to anyone living between mile markers 28 – 84 and who qualifies. 

  1. MYTH: The Keys have recovered from Irma. It’s been over 2 years, so we’re all good. 

BUSTED: So many of us are still trying to find a way to repair drywall, fix fences, repair stairs. Guess what? Habitat can help with all of that. No project is too small, and they can help you find a way to finally get Irma out of your life.

  1. MYTH:  I won’t qualify.

BUSTED: People are surprised to hear about Habitat’s forgiving income requirements and qualifications. If you need repairs done but haven’t been able to find the time, money, and people to do them, you probably qualify. Call Habitat about their repair program and don’t disqualify yourself before speaking to them. 

  1. MYTH: I shouldn’t call. Other people need the help more than I do. 

BUSTED: Habitat is here to help everyone in the community. The mission has grown since it’s founding to include home repairs, disaster relief, and neighborhood revitalization. Habitat has the know-how, the professionals, and the resources to help. All that’s missing is you and your project. Call today at 305-743-9828 or visit www.habitatmiddlekeys.org/.

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