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‘Hyperventilating, in tears:’ local Habitat for Humanity chapter receives biggest donation ever

ORLANDO, Fla. — Two Central Florida Habitat for Humanity chapters will be splitting a combined $9 million dollars to build and fight for more affordable housing in an increasingly expensive metro area.

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Habitat for Humanity Seminole-Apopka was gifted $3.5 million by philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, the former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who also gave $5.75 million to Habitat for Humanity of Greater Orlando and Osceola County.

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The CEO of the latter, Catherine Steck McManus, said it started with a cryptic email and a subsequent top-secret phone call with Scott’s team in February.

“As someone who has been in the nonprofit sector, her entire career, this just doesn’t happen,” McManus said. “It’s the largest gift in this in the history of habitat Orlando and Osceola. So, to say that I was in tears and hyperventilating is probably an understatement.”

We are delighted to share that we are one of 84 Habitat for Humanity affiliates that have received a transformative...

Posted by Habitat for Humanity Greater Orlando & Osceola County on Tuesday, March 22, 2022

The donation couldn’t come at a more crucial time. Analysts have reported the metro area was short 70,000 homes as the population skyrocketed. Last week, the Florida Realtors Association reported the average buyer last year had a median income of $95,000, far higher than most millennial buyers and people working in critical industries.

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McManus said police officers, public school teachers and 911 dispatchers now often qualify for their programs, whereas before they didn’t.

“You can look to your left or to your right, and I can guarantee you that person knows someone or is themselves struggling,” she said.

On top of that, the organization is battling cost issues. McManus said houses are $25,000 more expensive to build than two years ago and supply chain woes cause delays. She said some of the money would go toward a “wish list” of items staff members have wanted to accomplish, but never could because of funding shortages.

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“We’re going to… be able to hire more case managers to help more people, credit counseling, debt counseling, how can we help meet their housing objectives,” she said. “It may not be a brand new Habitat home, but they’re going to go through a Habitat program [and] we’re also looking at different ways to bring capital into the market to eventually build more homes.”

None of the money has any strings attached, an important factor. McManus said Scott believed staff members who work in the space know best how to put her donations to good use.

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