“By dropping home ownership opportunities in the community like this, we’re bringing more stability.”

Via ABC Action News

Stephanie Smith can’t wait to start making memories in her new home.

“I’m looking forward to Christmas,” she said on Wednesday outside her new home on 46th Ave. N. in Lealman. “Can’t wait to put my first Christmas tree in that front window.”

She doesn’t have the keys yet, but she will get them Thursday from Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties during a ceremony.

“Very grateful,” she said. “Blessed.”

Her home is just one of the 12 that the nonprofit helped on this block in Lealman. The Pinellas County community is home to 30,000 people, but it’s also been home to problems like crime, blight, and a lack of investment.

“The Lealman community has struggled over the years,” said Mike Sutton, the president & CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties.

Over the past few years, Pinellas County has tried to revitalize the community by investing in its parks, improving its infrastructure, and beautifying its streetscapes. It has also helped increase home ownership in Lealman with the help of Sutton and Habitat for Humanity.

By dropping home ownership opportunities in the community like this, we’re bringing more stability,” Sutton said.

According to Sutton, with the help of the county and private sponsors, his nonprofit has now built nearly 50 homes in Lealman. Many of them are built on land donated by the county.

The most recent batch will provide affordable housing to multiple working professionals in the county, including Smith.

“I work at the sheriff’s office in the communications center,” she said.

Sutton says the work in Lealman isn’t done.

“The community still lacks, you know, a close by grocery store, so it’s considered a food desert. There’s some other upgrades that need to happen, and there’s some pockets of high crime,” he said.

But little by little, he thinks the county, his nonprofit, and the others involved in revitalization are making a difference as people like Smith take ownership of their homes and the community too.

“Whenever you’re living somewhere, you’re the face of where you’re at. You’re a part of the community,” she said. “You want to get to know people, so yes, it’s a very exciting endeavor.”

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