Building Up The Beaches

By Miller Mott

As anyone would, Zoie Kohn had a hard time leaving the community that raised her. Especially when the only factor preventing her from staying was the lack of affordable housing. As a single mother of three, a two-bedroom apartment was not cutting it. 

“It used to get cramped. I just got fed up with paying rent. Rent kept increasing just about every year, and I just wanted more,” said Kohn.

Affordable housing is the leading factor preventing people from living out their American dream. However, with some hard work and the help of a local nonprofit, Beaches Habitat for Humanity, many are able to make this dream a reality.

 In early 2019, Kohn reached out to Beaches Habitat in hopes of creating a safe and stable living environment for her and her kids. She filled out the lengthy application that Habitat uses to vet their applicants. In her application, she explained her situation. Jacksonville Beach has been her home her whole life and she wanted to raise her kids in the same place. Her job and frankly her entire life were at the beaches. 

Habitat’s selection committee chooses new homeowners based on three criteria: their willingness to partner with Habitat, their ability to repay a mortgage with the help of an affordable payment plan, and the applicant’s level of needs. If chosen, they must invest at least 300 hundred hours of labor, this Habitat calls sweat equity. 

Kohn said she didn’t think she would get selected. But a few months later she got a call, she would be a homeowner. 

 Only a few months later she was working on her house. Kohn said it was a challenge, however “it makes me appreciate my home even more to know the hard work I put into it.”

Kristine Garcia is another Habitat resident who was building her house. “It’s hard work, but it’s my hard work,”  Garcia says “I’ve slammed my fingers and stapled my fingers.” She continued, joking about the unexpected importance of a hard hat. 

Development Director, Mary-Anne Christensen, who helped both Kohn and Garcia through the process, she said this sweat equity is what makes Habitat’s program “a hand up, not a handout.”

By the beginning of 2020, Kohn had a home. “My kids go to great schools, there’s a community center right down the street from us. This is a house they can grow up in, I can settle down in. and that I one day can pass down to them.” Kohn said.

Applicants can expect the application process to take anywhere from one to three months. Potential applicants are recommended to attend an optional informational meeting. From there, the applicant must submit a completed application providing documentation related to family status, income, etc. Their credit, criminal records, and basic requirements are then reviewed by the committee. To ensure the applicant understands the responsibilities of homeownership and the Habitat mission, they are interviewed, and a home visit is completed. The applicant is then presented to the Family Selection Committee for approval and notified of a decision. If the applicant is selected, they then begin their sweat equity requirements alongside volunteers and other homeowners working with Habitat.

Habitat for Humanity offers many different ways to volunteer, providing an option for everyone. These options include local and travel options. Volunteers can come both individually or part of a group, and there are even special events.

If looking to apply for homeownership or just to volunteer, visit www.beacheshabitat.org