The elements of a home under construction were familiar — a frame rising from a graded lot, taped drywall, tubs of primer on the porch.
But, everything was happening faster and all at once.
Pockets of workers moved in anthill choreography, unloading lumber, laying roof shingles and stabbing caulk guns at siding, windows and doors. Nearby, project managers, cellphones stuck to their ears, gestured in conversation.
Habitat for Humanity of Jacksonville and the Northeast Florida Builders Association partnered to build a house in 24 hours in New Town, working Wednesday and Thursday from sunup to sundown.
The purpose was to raise awareness about options for affordable housing in Jacksonville.
It’s the third year in a row the organizations have partnered on a “blitz-build.” Past projects were building 25 and 50 homes over six days.
“It’s like a barn-raising on steroids,” said Roger Cortie, HabiJax chief operating officer. “The scope is a little bit smaller, but actually it ends up being harder than a larger build.”
NEFBA President Rick Morales has done about 10 blitz-builds before. But this is his first 24-hour one.
“It’s been awesome,” he said. “There’s more pressure, because there are so many more people and so many more things to coordinate. But so far, it’s gone smoothly.”
To get “smoothly” to happen, though, took three months of planning, leadership from five local builders and passing the hat at NEFBA membership meetings.
Morales Construction, D.S. Ware Homes, Lennar Homes, Dostie Homes and New Leaf Construction each energized their subcontractors for contributions. The home was built almost entirely from the in-kind and cash donations.
Funding was one hurdle, organizing the work was another.
“It’s been exciting and fun. But oh my God, it’s been a logistical nightmare,” Morales said laughing.
A home like the one built for HabiJax would normally take 60 to 90 days. That schedule was compressed.
Project managers coordinated just-in-time deliveries from building suppliers. Work processes were staged.
As some teams focused on the house, others pre-built components. One group pre-assembled ductwork on the right side of the lot while another put bends in aluminum for soffits on the left side.
When Morales during those early meetings first brought a framer in and explained the project, the man answered, “I can’t do that.” They talked him through the idea and he decided later that maybe he could.
By the day of the build, he was excited.
“To get him from ‘I can’t,’ to ‘I think I can’ to ‘Hell, yes I can,’ that was really awesome,” Morales said.
A former HabiJax board member, Morales continues to participate in the program because it’s effective in creating a safe place to live for underprivileged people.
“If you look around this block, you can see 10 HabiJax houses, and they’re the best kept houses in the community,” he said. “You can see the pride that people have in these homes.”
Devin Henry, the man who will move into the house, knows. He lives just three minutes away from the work site.
“There’s a lot of rumors out there about HabiJax, like that there’s a long waiting list,” Henry said. “But there is no list. Once you meet all of the qualifications and do what they ask you to do, you get a house. It’s a lot easier than you think.”
Single and 26, Henry had never looked for a home loan before, but realized renting was not going to get him anywhere.
He figures he’ll pay about $500 a month in mortgage payments for his new home. The lowest rents he can find have been $600 to $650.
“I think it’s going to make a big difference to my future,” Henry said. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to start my family here. It’ll be a place where my kids will grow up, and I’ll be able to put a roof over their heads.”
Morales said having a stable place to live makes everything easier.
Given the choice, though, would he achieve that through a 24-hour build again?
“Yes, but you’ve got to give me some rest,” he said.