Meg White is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.
As dawn broke on Thursday, Nov. 3, about 100 real estate professionals joined Habitat for Humanity of Greater Orlando to work on an innovative residential real estate project called Butler’s Preserve.
The development—named in honor of former Orange County Commissioner and longtime affordable housing advocate Mable Butler—is located on a once-blighted 38-acre parcel of land that will hold 51 single-family homes and four duplex units when it’s completed next year. The homes range in size from two to five bedrooms, and from 930 to 1,510 square feet.
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Butler’s Preserve, located in Orlando's Malibu Groves neighborhood, stands out from typical affordable housing in both the construction of the homes and the overall design of the community. Habitat for Humanity of Greater Orlando worked with city and county officials to incorporate features of New Urbanism in the design, including porches, alleys, and walkable green space.
“New Urbanism is something that is taking hold in Central Florida, but we are the first affordable housing community that is using that type of model,” says Catherine McManus, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Orlando. She also noted that energy and water efficiency have been important priorities for the project; each home will be certified by the Florida Green Building Coalition and classified as water efficient by the state's Florida Water Star program.
“We want to always make our homes as affordable as possible, so part of that is creating the most energy-efficient home we can,” she says. The three-bedroom homes in Butler’s Preserve boast a HERS rating of 52, which means the nonprofit Residential Energy Services Network finds them to be about 48 percent more efficient than the average new home. “It’s a little more expensive on our end to do that but the outcomes for the families are substantial throughout the time that they live in their home.”
Many REALTORS® on hand to help out expressed a feeling of duty when it comes to participating in the build, an event that has been a staple of the REALTORS® Conference & Expo since 2001. “What is more appropriate for a real estate agent than to work on a house and see people be able to take advantage of being in a home and building a community?” asked Vicky Turner of Crawford Realty in Dixon, Ill.
Habitat home owner Pauline McKenzie, who moved into Butler's Preserve in July, was on hand to let REALTORS® know how much she and her family appreciate their efforts.
“Thank you so much for helping us and helping home owners like us to really have our own home and enjoy the American Dream,” McKenzie told volunteers. “Habitat is so awesome and amazing, and it brings life to people. When you come and do these volunteer hours, really do know that we, the families, appreciate it.”