Breaking the cycle of poverty with every set of keys

Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties has hit another milestone.

On Friday, the organization celebrated its 800th home dedication ceremony, in St. Petersburg.

It’s a meaningful one for Habitat’s chief executive officer, Mike Sutton, who has been with the organization since 2014. His first home dedication was no. 280.

“Every one of those 520 families that I’ve seen receive keys has a different story. But the one thing they all have in common is now they’ve had the opportunity to build generational wealth through homeownership,” says Sutton. “It’s an exciting time, every time one of them receives those keys.”

Mike Sutton

The organization has wrapped up its annual CEO Build, in which, for the second year in a row, 55 CEOs, over the course of three separate days, helped to build a home for a Habitat family. All told, the CEOs raised more than $160,000 for this year’s build, Sutton says.

“What’s really exciting is the fact that a lot of the CEOs have identified an opportunity to engage their employees in the work that Habitat does, and have also used it as an opportunity to have conversations with us about how to provide resources to their employees, to ensure that they can find affordable places to live in our community,” Sutton says.

Workforce and affordable housing is a topic that comes up, often, when asking business leaders what keeps them up at night.

“I was just reading an article that there are nine competitors for everyone available apartment right now, in our region. When it’s that hard to find somewhere to live, it makes it even that much harder to find something that’s affordable,” Sutton says. “It’s a scary time for people. They don’t know what to do, so they’re going to go somewhere that may be a little bit more affordable for them.”

It’s another reason the 800th home celebration means so much to the mission of Habitat.

“We get to celebrate our achievements because of the support of our community,” Sutton says. “It provides a lot of exposure for our organization so that we can help people understand what we truly do.”

The Habitat for Humanity program has misconceptions it has to counter. Sutton has an elevator pitch he uses to describe how the program really works, for people who might assume it’s “just a handout.”

“It’s not a giveaway. The families are purchasing the house. It’s a zero-interest mortgage. They’ve completed 32 homebuyer education classes. They’ve gone through a series of sweat equity hours. They must put in between 350 and 450 sweat equity hours helping to build their own home,” he explains. “Once they move into the home, they’re now contributing to the tax base.”

Not to mention, the homes built add value to the neighborhoods they are built in.

“There’s a lot of studies out there about mixed-income communities. The homes we build increase property values for the surrounding properties and increases homeownership rates.”

It’s the mission that matters. Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties will hold its spring fundraising gala at The Vinoy Renaissance, in St. Petersburg, on March 31. It’s a sold-out event. But, while a fun disco theme this year, these events are not the heart of what the organization is about, says Sutton.

“We’re not a big event-focused organization. We raise funds for each home as we go and, to me, it’s the excitement around each one of those homes that is important,” Sutton says. “As we move forward, we have 30 homes that we will complete between now and June 30.”


If you would like to partner with, or support, Habitat for Humanity, there are several local organizations that have multiple ways to get involved.

Here are the Habitat organizations available in Tampa Bay Business and Wealth’s coverage area. Each provides information on its website for getting involved.

Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties

Habitat for Humanity of Hillsborough County

Habitat for Humanity Sarasota

Manatee County Habitat for Humanity 



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