Via St. Pete Catalyst

15 Tampa Bay business leaders gathered Friday morning to help a St. Petersburg mom build a home from the ground up.

The hands-on help is part of Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties’ CEO Build program, which started in 2022 as an opportunity for area CEOs and local leaders to give back to their communities and advocate for affordable homeownership. Mike Sutton, CEO of the local Habitat affiliate, said the overwhelming success of the first specialty build has helped the program grow.

“A lot of these folks have already been involved with us, but we thought this was a great way for them to gain some more validity in the community about the work we’re doing,” Sutton said. “It also gives the CEOs a kind of singular voice to say, ‘Hey, we need affordable housing in our community for our employees.’”

63 business executives will take part in the 2024 CEO Build over the course of three days, helping build a home for Tangela Butler, a Pinellas County school bus driver, and her 17-year-old twin sons. Butler said before entering the program, she’d heard it was too difficult to join or complete, but when she found herself struggling to pay rent and nearly homeless, she was ready to make a change.

“Finally one day I just broke down and decided to contact Habitat. It is a lot of work, that part was definitely true because you have to be very dedicated and you have to know what you want,” Butler said. “If this is your dream, you just have to go for it. And that’s what I did. I never thought I could do it, never thought I made enough to own a home until I met Habitat.”

In order to qualify for a Habitat for Humanity home, candidates must meet program criteria, attend 32 homeownership classes, complete 350 to 450 sweat equity hours and make a financial contribution of approximately $3,000-$3,500 toward closing costs and homeowner’s insurance. Once completed, they purchase the home with a 0% interest mortgage.

“The myth is that these homes are given away. We’ve been involved from the bank side and the education side, so we’ve seen the hours they put in,” said Jim Kirkpatrick, Florida Market President of Republic Bank and participant in the 2024 CEO Build. “We’ve all listened to the stories about how people get here and what they go through. Their perseverance, strength and determination is what gets us inspired.”

The Butlers’ future home on 45th Avenue N. is in the heart of the Lealman neighborhood, a historically underserved suburb of St. Petersburg in unincorporated Pinellas County. Sutton said Lealman has become a major focus area for Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties.

“It’s a community that’s been neglected for many years. It lacks reliable transportation and proper grocery stores, it’s a food desert. And yet, there’s been a lot of investment made by the county with a lot of the parks and upgrades to the streets, so we feel we can complement that by bringing affordable housing to Lealman,” said Sutton. “We’ve done probably 40 to 50 homes over the last couple of years in the Lealman community, and we expect to do more in the future.”

Butler works just a few minutes away from her future home and drives past the build site every day, stopping to take a photo of the progress. She said being chosen as the site for the 2024 CEO Build is the “best feeling ever. It’s amazing that people take the time out of their busy schedules and their lives to come out and contribute to others

“That is love; I feel loved and I’m so grateful. Hopefully I can become a CEO and do the same thing to give back.”

The two-year process of earning and owning her first home is almost complete as Butler will cut the ribbon on her new house and move in this March. With the experience nearly in the rearview mirror, she has advice for other aspiring homeowners.

“There’s a lot of people out there hurting, who don’t think they can ever become a homeowner. I was feeling the same way. I know the feeling of being homeless because I was one second away from it.”

“I just want to tell you, if you have a desire to become a homeowner and you want to you want to build generational wealth for your children, this is the route to go. Get into the program, do everything it takes and they’ll work with you. You just have to be willing to put in the work. It’s not going to be easy, but if this is your goal, you can be standing right here, watching your house being built from the ground up.”

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