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State News

The Florida House Of Representatives Builds A House

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R.Benk
/
WFSU-FM

Florida Lawmakers traded their amendments and bills for hammers and nails in a seven day “blitz build” for Habitat for Humanity. The house will go to a Tallahassee resident and her family.

“There’s no words the way that I feel right now. No words at all.”

Tallahassee local Cookie Ashby has just been handed the keys to her first home, a house built by the Florida House of Representatives. Ashby wasn’t expecting to move into a new home until later in the year, and then she got a call from the non-profit’s Office Manager Shannon Taylor.

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Credit R.Benk / WFSU-FM
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WFSU-FM

“I had no idea. I know Shannon had called me and told me it was getting ready to start. I’m like is this an early April fool’s joke? She was like no Cookie it’s really going to happen. But, I didn’t know it was going to be the House of Representatives that was going to be doing it. I had no idea,” Ashby said.

Habitat for Humanity was founded in 1976 and describes itself as a “Christian housing ministry” devoted to building affordable houses for the poor. The Tallahassee chapter of the group has built 160 homes in 25 years. But, the chapter’s Director, Wes Singletary points out that the group doesn’t just give houses away, the homeowner pays a mortgage.

“A lot of people think that we simply give homes away, that’s not the case. We raise the money, we build the homes, and then the homeowners who’ve gone through extensive classes on how to be a home owner, because so many of these folks have come from tenant relationships their entire lives, they come in with a zero percent interest, zero percent down payment,” Singletary said.

Republican Representative Mike Fasano, of New Port Richey, said personal empowerment is important adding he felt empowered by seeing such a bi-partisan effort to get Cookie’s home built in only seven days.

“The family has to participate, the new owner is participating, along with volunteers from Habitat for Humanity and then of course the state legislators, both Republicans and Democrats on both sides of the aisle,” Fasano said.

Most of the lawmakers who helped build Cookie’s home have been involved in Habitat builds in their home districts, but Republican Representative Daniel Davis, of Jacksonville, thinks with the amount of time legislators spend in Tallahassee, it’s only right for them to get involved in the capital city too.

“We all give back in our home communities but I think it’s important that we look at Tallahassee as almost a second home. So when start talking about it, the best thing we can do is help build somebody a house and Habitat came along and it just started going together like hand and glove,” Davis said.

Because of the fast pace of the build, Big Bend Habitat for Humanity enlisted the help of the Jacksonville chapter, Habi-jax, to ensure they could finish the home in seven days. The new homeowner, Cookie Ashby, said the only thing that surprised her more than the pace of the build was the kindness of her lawmakers.

“They really are some good people and they gave me contact information to keep in contact with them if I have any questions or any concerns for me to give them a call. So, that’s what I’m going to do,” Ashby said.

The House volunteers hope to continue the tradition and expand it to include their Senate colleagues next year.