TAMPA — After three years of waiting, two families finally were allowed into their first homes of their own Saturday.
Habitat for Humanity of Hillsborough County celebrated the completion of its Providence Pointe neighborhood, a 15-home development on quiet Radio Lane off U.S. 301.
The final two families moved into their homes after all 15 homeowners released blue and white balloons to mark the new phase of their lives. A large group of volunteers, neighbors and family members crowded the narrow street for a block party and barbecue following the ribbon-cuttings.
Watching Habitat families see their new homes for the first time — after they have put in so many hours of “sweat equity” to help build them — is always an emotional experience for the volunteers, said Jackie Buckler, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Hillsborough County.
“They work really hard and that’s one of the intentions,” she said. “They give back to the community.”
Workers broke ground on the two-, three- and four-bedroom homes in Providence Pointe in June 2011. The project cost an estimated $2.25 million and took almost 19,000 volunteer hours to build — all contributed by more than 50 local churches and companies.
Each family who received a home had to prove a certain level of financial need and donate 300 hours of their own time helping to build the houses, Buckler said. They pay interest-free mortgages on the houses to Habitat for Humanity and must contribute to the closing costs.
Tina Crist, 41, moved into one of the first completed Providence Pointe homes in 2012. Her two daughters, Jasmine and Chloe, have Hello Kitty-themed bedrooms with glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. Before they moved to Radio Lane, they lived with Crist’s mom.
Crist loved that with Habitat she was able to help build her own house.
“They make us able to have a home just like anyone else,” she said. “We can have that American dream.”
The mortgages Habitat for Humanity collects on the houses the organization has built help pay for construction of future homes. In August the organization expects to begin work on the first of four homes planned in the Seminole Heights neighborhood. Volunteers also will help low-income families in the neighborhood that already have homes but need assistance with minor repairs, exterior painting and landscaping.
Steel producer Gerdau, based in Tampa, donated more than $200,000 to help fund construction of three of the homes in Providence Pointe.
Jim Kerkvliet, Gerdau’s vice president of sales and marketing, is the vice-chair of the board for Habitat for Humanity of Hillsborough County.
“This has always been one of my passions,” he said at the ribbon-cutting for the new homes Saturday.
His company has sponsored a total of seven Habitat homes in the Tampa area, he said.
“It’s not a handout,” he said. “It’s a hand up.”