MIDDLEBURG – Although she had put in almost 300 hours using power tools and paint brushes, Stephanie Mabey had no idea which house would be hers.
And then, around Thanksgiving last year, Clay County Habitat for Humanity was finally told that the house she had been working on all along was going to be hers and her family’s.
“Originally, I thought I was going to get a three-bedroom home but they said, ‘for the year that you’ve been through, we would like to offer you the four-bedroom,’” Mabey said. “That was the house I had been working on and I was just so excited.”
This house didn’t become a home until last Friday, when Habitat for Humanity officials held a dedication celebration in Mabey’s honor. It was here that Mabey was officially handed the keys to the house on Timothy Street where she had already logged hour upon hour of sweat equity.
With more than 60 guests ranging from family and friends to contractors and builders – and a handful of employees from Publix, which sponsored house – Mabey and her two daughters, Kosiah and Iysahn Horton, were presented with house-warming gifts from Habitat for Humanity.
Mabey was given a hammer – equipped with a green handle that matched the green accent paint of her home, a color idea that came from the Publix team, along with a Bible, a candle, a cookbook and among other items, of course, a key.
As tears fell down Mabey’s cheeks, her daughters stood by and smiled culminating a journey that began in October 2016.
“Thanks to God, to Clay Habitat, to my family and friends, to my church and to everyone that helped us get here today,” Mabey said. “I just want my daughters to have a home and all of you helped make that happen.”
Previously, Mabey and her daughters moved from place to place, paying rent, something Mabey hated as she felt she was wasting money on something that would never be hers.
“I don’t have to [pay rent] anymore,” Mabey said. “I can call this house mine.”
Mabey’s mom was particularly excited about this.
“She’s been renting and moving around a lot,” said Maureen Tango, Mabey’s mother. “I couldn’t be more excited that my daughter and my grandchildren finally have a place that is theirs and only theirs.”
Despite no longer paying rent each month, Mabey does still have a monthly house payment to make as part of the standard Habitat for Humanity program rules.
“Our clients have to make their mortgage payment each month, just like any other homeowners, and if they default, we have to take the house back,” said Carolyn Edwards Clay County Habitat for Humanity Director executive director. “We act as the mortgage company in this situation and our clients know that.”
Edwards said that every client is given months of preparation for this, though. Each client has to have a credit score in the low 600s, which Habitat for Humanity will help make happen if it isn’t already there. They must also have a minimum monthly income of $2,200 and if they have a bankruptcy in their past, it must have been discharged within the last three years.
Financials aside, no client can have a felony conviction on their record within the past seven years and they must commit to volunteering 300 hours for a single person or 500 hours for a couple.
After paying at least half of the down payment, which is $1,100, and completing half of the required volunteer hours, the client then selects a lot from the available properties and begins work on their home.
“All of this is to help set up our clients for success,” Edwards said.
For all 41 years of its existence, that has been the goal of Habitat for Humanity.
“Our purpose is to eliminate substandard housing in Clay County and we are doing that by building and renovating affordable and decent housing,” Edwards said. “We are able to do this by partnering with the community, in this case Publix and others, who provide us volunteer labor or donations, reductions on supply and service costs.”
Substandard housing is defined as housing whose rent exceeds 40 percent of one’s income. These situations often find houses or apartments overcrowded with poor electrical and plumbing. The structure of the house might be falling apart or might be deemed dangerous. The roof might be leaking. The air conditioner might not work. The neighborhood could be considered unsafe. All of these are factors are taken into consideration when considering one’s living situation substandard.
“If we can help it, nobody needs to live like that,” Edwards said. “These people we help are our neighbors in the county. They are people we should be helping and that’s why we do what we do.”