This Thanksgiving, Manatee families thankful for Habitat homes

Skye Reyes still remembers the Bradenton two-bedroom duplex she lived in with her mother and four siblings.

“It was very crowded and small,” the 11-year-old said this week as she sat on the couch in her family’s Ellenton home. “I like living here more. Since we don’t live by big streets, it is quieter.”

About 3 1/2 years ago, the Reyes family moved into their four-bedroom house in Hope Landing, a community with 18 Manatee County Habitat for Humanity homes. While this is the family’s third Thanksgiving in the home, mother Ana Reyes, 37, still calls it “such a blessing.”

“Right now, I’m so thankful that I’m able to afford everything for them,” Ana Reyes said. “It feels good.”

The kids are at home this week for Thanksgiving break. Clyde Reyes, who is celebrating his 10th birthday on Thanksgiving, sat Tuesday at the kitchen table playing speed stacks. In the living room, Skye sat on the floor with brother Clayton, 6, playing bendomino.

“The environment is healthier, safer. It’s clean,” said their 16-year-old sister, Mey.

Echoed Clyde, “I’m so glad we moved here.”

Habitat’s first green community

When Manatee County Habitat for Humanity broke ground in 2010 on Hope Landing, which is just off Franklin Avenue in Ellenton, the nonprofit set out to make the 18-home community the first green Habitat neighborhood in Manatee.

The infrastructure within the Hope Landing community, including the roads and playground, was paid for through a Manatee County Community Development Block Grant. It was built out in 2015.

“We just thought it was the right thing to do,” said Bruce Winter, Manatee Habitat’s director of construction. “Habitat builds homes for low-income families. We felt as good stewards we also needed to be good stewards of the Earth.”

Manatee Habitat has received multiple local, state and federal recognitions for building Hope Landing as “energy efficient, sustainable and affordable homes,” according to a Habitat document.

Some of the Hope Landing homes have been certified as U.S. Green Build Coalition LEEDS Platinum, making them the first residential homes in Manatee County to receive the certification. Other homes in the community received the coalition’s LEED Gold certification.

Now, Manatee Habitat uses the green standards that were used at Hope Landing for all other new home construction. So far, the nonprofit has built 24 houses like this, Winter said.

“By building the more efficient home, we build a home that is affordable on a monthly basis,” he said. “For a few dollars more, you can build a more efficient home and lower the cost to the homeowner. Since developing the products and materials that we used at Hope Landing, we now use that as we move forward to other areas of the county.”

The green homes have made a big difference for the Habitat homeowners, Winter said.

“We’ve noticed that it is having a big difference on a homeowner’s life, being able to have a more efficient home and by saving cost of energy, they are able to use that money to improve the lives of their families,” he said.

For 33-year-old Autumn McDuffie, who lives in Hope Landing with her four children, she never has any electric bill of more than $100.

“I appreciate it so much,” she said as she stood outside her home with her dog, Beautiful. “I’m so happy.”

The Hope Landing community means 18 families now have opportunities to be successful in the future, said Diana Shoemaker, Manatee Habitat’s executive director.

“It’s just a huge sense of accomplishment for our community and Habitat family, and that we created a stable place for families and children,” she said. “There is much hope for the people that live here.”

Habitat home has helped a lot

Before moving into her home in Hope Landing, Ana Reyes paid $750 a month for the two-bedroom duplex in Bradenton. Now, her mortgage is $585 a month for her four children, mother and husband to live in the four-bedroom Habitat home.

“It’s nice because I can make my budget,” she said. “I can save money.”

With the financial stability and savings, it has allowed Ana Reyes to send her children to Bradenton Christian School for the past three years.

“I’m able to pay that education for them,” she said. “I think that’s the best investment that you can make. I want them to be successful in life.”

Currently working part-time at Bradenton Christian, Ana Reyes said she is working toward becoming a full-time teacher, which wouldn’t have been possible if she didn’t live in the Habitat home.

“I used to have two to three jobs,” she said. “I used to not see my kids that often. This is the first year I’m able to be around them.”

The Reyes family plans to celebrate Thanksgiving — along with Clyde’s birthday — at home.

“Since I got my house, I always have my Thanksgiving and Christmas in my house,” Ana Reyes said. “That’s the purpose. I love it to stay here with the kids. They love it. We really do.”

Claire Aronson: 941-745-7024, @Claire_Aronson