NewsPrice of Paradise


Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties holds first-ever mortgage burning ceremony

A 30-year mortgage finally paid off
Vicki Cooper burns her mortgage during a ceremony on Dec. 3 at the Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties
Posted at 5:10 AM, Dec 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-13 19:25:35-05

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Despite shortages, supply chain issues, and soaring prices, Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties is on pace to build a record 70 homes in 2021. And, homeowners that joined the program decades ago are celebrating some major milestones.

Homeowners put in 350 to 450 hours of sweat equity, and of course, every home comes with a mortgage. On the first of the month, many of us know the feeling of making sure we have enough money in our accounts to pay it. On Friday, Dec. 3, the nonprofit held their first mortgage burning ceremony for Habitat for Humanity homeowner Vicki Cooper.

Cooper qualified for a home in 1993. In 1996 she finally moved in.

"I was just anxious. I was ready, we couldn't wait," Cooper told ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska. "We were like, this is home, this is home. A beautiful feeling."

The entire staff came outside to watch the ceremony. A parking lot full of people, smiling, laughing, hugging and cheering on Cooper's success.

"Vicki Cooper has been a homeowner for 30 years," Mike Sutton, President and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties, said.

"But that has to be a great feeling to make that last mortgage payment and know that all that hard work has paid off. And now she completely owns that asset, right, that equity that she's been able to build, you know, habitats all about the generational wealth through homeownership. And she's been able to do that. And so we're just extremely proud of our homeowners."

Sutton said the affordable housing issue across the Tampa Bay area is at a tipping point. As nearly a thousand people a day move to Florida, the ability to find land to build Habitat for Humanity homes is a top priority.

"Our biggest challenge is definitely finding property, affordable property. It's a challenge to find large tracts of land," Sutton said.

Paluska asked how the nonprofit could build a record number of homes during such a volatile time.

"The supply chain crisis is legit, and it's really serious. We've seen the average cost of our homes increase, probably $30,000 to $40,000. And so when you're building 70 homes, and you multiply that out, that's a significant amount of money that we have to rise above and beyond what we normally," Sutton said. "As a result, we've had a lot of our longtime partners have stepped up and increased their support this year."

Volunteers are also doing their part to keep the cost of labor down. For example, we watched as more than a dozen worked on a Habitat for Humanity home in Largo. The teams painted, vacuumed, and cleaned the windows.

Cooper told Paluska homeownership kept her and her family in one place, gave them stability instead of going from apartment to apartment.

"Habitat has done so much, you know, for me and my family. Bringing up my kids when I know I wouldn't have been able to pull it out, you know, own my own home. So I appreciate everything everybody did," Cooper said. "And, I'm so thankful that I was a part of that program. I'm in a home, I got a home. That's a dream everybody has. They want a house to live in. So they set me up and showed me that, you know, Vicki, you can do it. You know, I have a home. It is paid for, it took over, you know, 30 years to pay it off. And I'm happy. So you can't ask for anything else."

As Tampa Bay continues to attract new residents and businesses, the impact of living in paradise comes at a cost for all of us— from the increasing cost of housing and infrastructure to utilities and insurance. ABC Action News is committed to helping you and your family make the most of your money and navigate through the Price of Paradise.