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Habitat for Humanity teams up with FineMark Bank to provide affordable housing

Rebeca Rodriguez stands with her mother to in a dedication ceremony to accept the home built by Habitat for Humanity volunters.
Riley Hazel
Democracy Watch
Rebeca Rodriguez stands with her mother Maria in a dedication ceremony to accept the home built by Habitat for Humanity volunteers.

Habitat for Humanity welcomed its first Heritage Heights resident on Friday morning after teaming up with FineMark National Bank & Trust.

Rebeca Rodriguez and her mother Maria could not afford rent in Southwest Florida, so they turned to Habitat for Humanity for help with finding affordable housing.

“I am so excited, so happy for this house,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez is the first of six Heritage Heights families to receive a newly-built home after FineMark National Bank & Trust pledged $1 million to help those in need.

The Cape Coral and Fort Myers metro area is ranked number one as the most over-valued housing market in the nation. Buyers are paying a premium of 62.29%, according to FAU. The market is also ranked number one for rent increases.

In order to be eligible for an affordable mortgage, Rodriguez was required to sit in on 20 hours of personal finance and homeownership classes and acquire 300 hours of work on her home.

“My mom is so happy with this house,” Rodriguez said. “I really worked so hard for it. I really appreciate it. I don’t really believe that I am here this morning.”

In Heritage Heights construction of the homes began in February 2020. Once complete it will house 150 families, 59 single-family homes and 91 townhome units. The neighborhood is projected to be complete in 2029.

Habitat for Humanity has completed 29 homes so far, according to Habitat for Humanity Public Relations Specialist Katie Cribbs.

“The process was a little hard because wherever you have to buy a house is complicated. But here, you have to apply, and you have to make the hours,” Rodriguez said.

Homeowners are asked to pay $2,000 in closing costs, and in their closing agreement, homeowners will buy the home through Habitat for Humanity with a 0% interest loan. Their mortgage will be set at no more than 30% of their income.

“The many people that helped me in this process, in this deal, are amazing,” Rodriguez said. “I’m happy because I was working really hard. I learned so much about the program, about everything.”

Habitat for Humanity largely relies on volunteers to help keep housing affordable. They provide 60 percent of construction labor.

Jim and Ginny Keen of New Lebanon, Ohio, travel as RV Care-A-Vanners with Habitat for Humanity to volunteer where needed for six months out of the year.

Ginny Keen was able to help with construction on Rodriguez’s home just three days prior, painting a door. She and her husband have been in Florida since January, and were at the dedication ceremony Friday morning.

“We haven’t been to many dedications,” Keen said. “We basically come in and out, and the houses aren’t usually done. It’s really wonderful to hear when [Rodriguez] was talking about what it meant to her and getting the opportunity to have a home. That’s really the most special part of it.”

While Ginny and Rodriguez were not able to work directly with each other much on the house, the dedication ceremony brought the volunteers and Rodriguez and her mom together in a memorable way.

“A home is not just an individual asset. It’s a community asset,” Habitat for Humanity Chief Executive Officer Becky Lucas said.

While Habitat for Humanity builds in scattered lots, the organization also aims to build neighborhoods.

“An affordable home is the foundation,” Lucas said. “It gives the family stability to thrive in a habitat that thriving equals hope. A thriving family is a hopeful family.”

Heritage Heights is one of seven projects listed on thewebsite. It is a 24-acre community located along Gladiolus Drive and Summerlin Road.

For more information on volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, visithttps://www.habitat4humanity.org/volunteer.

This story was produced by Democracy Watch, a news service provided by Florida Gulf Coast University journalism students. The reporter can be reached at rjhazel4249@eagle.fgcu.edu