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2,000 Homes Under Its Toolbelt, HabiJax Focuses On New Town Success Zone

Jessica Palombo
Volunteers put the finishing touches on the 2,000th home built by HabiJax.

The nonprofit HabiJax is building its 2,000th home in Jacksonville this week since it started building homes for low-income people in the late 1980s.

Recently, HabiJax is focusing its efforts in the New Town Success Zone, just west of downtown Jacksonville. It’s an area where other nonprofits and the city have focused resources to revive, and it’s attractive to developers because of its close proximity to Edward Waters College, public schools and public transportation.

On Thursday around 10 a.m., volunteers were putting the finishing touches on new houses there, around corners from boarded-up, condemned houses and buildings that still blight the community.

Credit Jessica Palombo / WJCT News
Volunteer Bill Olson loads sod into a wheelbarrow outside a HabiJax home Thursday, June 9.

Most volunteers were working alongside their coworkers from companies like CSX. Bill Olson with Google Fiber was loading a wheelbarrow full of sod.

“We gotta get the sod down, and we’re gonna do it, I think, ahead of schedule,” he said.

About 200 people are volunteering throughout the week during what’s called the HabiJax Home Builders Blitz. By the end of the week, they’ll complete 12 new homes and rehab five others.

HabiJax President and CEO Mary Kay O’Rourke says the program benefits the volunteers too.

“So many people from Jacksonville come into this community, or the communities that we build in, that would normally not be in this community,” she says. “So there’s a real sense of awareness, of what’s going on in other parts of Jacksonville.”

Also on Thursday, another crew was finishing HabiJax’s 2,000th home built since 1988, a four-bedroom home with a columned front porch. O’Rourke says a family is eagerly waiting for it.

Credit HabiJax
Andre'a and Donna Allen-Raysor and their three children will be living in the 2,000 house built by HabiJax.

“(Andre'a and Donna) Allen-Raysor and their children will be moving in here and they’ll be closing at the end of June—actually the last day of June. So, they’re very excited about it,” she says.

HabiJax homeowners must pass credit checks and prove they can pay mortgages, in addition to volunteering their own time to build homes for others. And part of the money they pay goes into a revolving fund that helps build more houses. Building materials are often donated, and professional contractors volunteer their time as well.  

The program allows home ownership for typically a much lower cost than it would be to rent the same-size home. About 30 families are on the group’s wait list. 

Jessica Palombo supervises local news gathering and production, podcasts and web editorial content for WJCT News, ADAPT and Jacksonville Today. She is an award-winning writer and journalist with bylines including NPR, Experience Magazine, and The Gainesville Sun. She has a master’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism from Syracuse University and is an alumna of the University of Florida. A nearly lifelong resident of Jacksonville, she considers herself lucky to be raising her own children in her hometown. Follow Jessica Palombo on Twitter: @JaxJessicaP