NAPLES, FL – Habitat for Humanity has applied several mitigation strategies in Collier County by building affordable, structurally sound, homes with a low flood risk.
An international non-governmental and nonprofit organization, Habitat for Humanity works in more than 1,300 communities across the United States. Its mission is to bring people together to build homes, communities and hope.
“At Habitat for Humanity, we service populations, diverse in age, ethnicity, language, gender and ability, who wish to provide a better life for their families. We build homes that are affordable and have structural integrity,” said Nicholas Kouloheras, president of Habitat for Humanity in Collier County. “However, buying land to build the homes is a huge challenge. The majority of the property purchased is in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA).”
According to Kouloheras, infrastructure preparation and home construction are well executed and adhere to Collier County’s stringent building codes.
“A civil engineer is on board at the onset of each building project and helps determine its layout and economic viability,” said Kouloheras.
Most of the undeveloped property in Collier County is farmland or reclaimed wetlands abutting the Everglades. The Habitat for Humanity subdivisions are 10 to 50 acres or larger and are developed as independent subdivisions.
“Looking at raw land, we do aerial photography, review the flood map, research zoning regulations, discuss entitlements and have an ecologist check the wetlands for endangered plants and animals,” said Chris Hagan, a civil engineer. “We also keep in mind flood routing and storm-water management.” Hagan added that Collier County is more stringent with permit requirements than some other counties in Florida. “But this provides better protection,” Hagan said.
A storm-water management system to increase capacity, delivery and reduce damage risk from flooding is constructed in each housing community.
“We create lakes (detention ponds) which are approximately 20 percent of the subdivision. Each lake is about an acre and has a control structure,” said Hagan. “The water is treated on site before finding its way into the Gulf of Mexico.”
“Habitat doesn’t get any breaks. All homes are required to be constructed at Base Flood Elevation (BFE). Habitat homes are built three to six inches above the BFE. Finished floor elevations are set above the BFE and designed to be above the 100-year zero-discharge storm elevations. All roads are above the 25-year flood,” Hagan added. Homeowners who elevate their homes are assured insurance savings.
Flood insurance coverage (on the structure) is required for all mortgaged residential structures within an SFHA. A community that participates in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) must enforce floodplain management regulations that meet or exceed the minimum NFIP requirements. These standards are intended to prevent loss of life and property, as well as economic and social hardships caused by flooding.
Collier County’s Habitat for Humanity has built homes that exceed the minimum NFIP requirements as well as adhere to Florida’s strict building codes. Builders make sure there are critical connections throughout the structure (where the roof system connects to supporting walls; at openings and headers in the walls; where walls connect to each other at floor levels; and where walls connect to the foundation).
In 2017, Hurricane Irma showed Habitat for Humanity’s success in adhering to building codes. Kouloheras and Hagan reported that Collier County Habitat’s 10 subdivisions did not have storm damage. However, Collier County sustained $320 million in other storm damages that included missing or torn roofs, downed trees, flooded homes and destroyed mobile homes.
“It’s our creed to provide safe, decent, affordable housing. Habitat homeowners help build their own homes together with volunteers and they pay an affordable mortgage. With our help they achieve the strength, stability and independence they need to build a better life for themselves and their families,” said Kouloheras.
“Through the years, we have made marked improvements from lessons learned. We know that what we are doing is much better,” added Hagan.
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