Bringing Affordable Homes to East Winter Garden

Austin Arthur talks with Marilyn Hattaway, Executive Director of the West Orange Habitat for Humanity.

It has been reported that in East Winter Garden there are over 1,600 individuals. Nearly half of the families that comprise these individuals earn less than $25,000 per household. Many of them are spending as high as 80% of their income in rent and unemployment in this area is reported to be over 25% (pre-COVID).

It is not an understatement to say that all of Winter Garden should have this portion of our community in our hearts and minds. However, it is not enough to care, we must also take action. Such action is underway by many in our community, and Marilyn Hattaway is a leading figure among them. As the Executive Director of the West Orange Habitat for Humanity and in partnership with the city of Winter Garden, the Polis Institute, and 321 Works, Hattaway is overseeing the construction of a new community in East Winter Garden.

Named Criswell Court, this four-house community will be beautiful and affordable housing with an aim at preserving the culture and history of East Winter Garden.

Habitat for Humanity is a global nonprofit housing organization that helps restore and build homes for the less fortunate among us. Including families here in Winter Garden via the West Orange Habitat for Humanity affiliation located on Highway 50 in the same plaza as Gymnastics USA.

Marilyn, a Certified Fund Raising Executive and a lifelong Florida resident, attended college at the University of South Florida. She began her career in national sales and marketing but in 2002, entered the nonprofit development industry. Prior to working with Habitat for Humanity, Marilyn was the Executive Director of the nonprofit Hospice of the Comforter Foundation, a position she held for 10 years.

During her career she has helped to change the lives of thousands through both the Hospice of the Comforter and now with Habitat for Humanity, by connecting donors to the missions they are passionate about.

“We all work within our local communities to bring together donors, volunteers, corporations, foundations, individuals, and churches together to wrap their minds and volunteer hearts around this ecumenical Christian organization, where we build homes for people,” Marilyn explained as we sat down together for an episode of the After Thought Show. She also defined further the principles of their organization by stating, “We believe that everyone deserves a decent place to live and we really focus on the fact that we lend a hand up and not a handout.”

The Habitat for Humanity does not give away homes to families, the goal of the organization is to bring forth affordable housing and the applicants must qualify and earn the home based on a few merit based factors.

“The first qualification is they have to demonstrate that they really do face a housing need. Secondly, they have to be willing to partner with us. This means they put in 200 hours of sweat equity … working on their own home or the homes of others. They also need to save for a small down payment. Finally, they need to take financial literacy course and a homeowner course,” explained Marilyn.

The applicants are set up for success and assigned to a mentor who work with them diligently through the process guiding them through the courses, the sweat equity, and eventually getting the keys to their new home. All of their mortgages are affordable ranging anywhere from $400-$500 a month with zero interest and never exceed over 30% of the homeowner’s wages. Marilyn explained that their success rate is tremendous and her passion for the people she takes part in helping is palpable.

“These are people who bag your groceries at Publix, who are waiting on you at Taco Bell… they are the people who are mowing your lawn … they're our neighbors and we want to keep them in the West Orange community,” said Marilyn while explaining the importance of helping the Habitat for Humanity in it’s mission.

Marilyn explained that there are three ways to help which is by donating “time, money, or stuff”. Folks in the community can go to their website and sign up to volunteer their time or to donate money. She explained that every donation is greatly important, “We love it when individuals remember us to give even a small gift, because $10 buys a box of nails ... and we need lots of boxes!”

At the Habitat for Humanity ReStore (13369 W Colonial Dr, Winter Garden), they take donations of materials including any manner of construction materials or home furniture which is then sold to the public at their ReStore location or used on their construction sites. 

“Builders are a really incredible resource for us. For example, builders who order tile for a new home and then find themselves with 400 square feet of tile leftover, we put that in our ReStore and put it to work, which keeps it out of the landfill and it also makes nice buy for somebody coming in who's redoing their home,” Marilyn explained.

The organization is doing a lot of good in East Winter Garden and beyond but they do not and cannot do it alone. As Marilyn concluded, “There is a way for everybody to get involved, we would first ask for everybody to pray for our mission, pray for our families, and pray for our organization because we need all the prayers we can get. Secondly, get involved! Get involved with time, money, or stuff. Come and volunteer with us… if it's a $10 donation you can make on our website, do that. Either way, we really hope that you'll keep West Orange Habitat in your heart and in your mind. When the opportunity arises, we hope you'll say yes, I'll be there.”


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