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A compassionate cook takes big life step: building and receiving a home

Kiana Clayton cuts ribbon to celebrate the completion of her new Alachua Habitat home. (Kenendy Mason/WUFT News)
Kiana Clayton cuts ribbon to celebrate the completion of her new Alachua Habitat home. (Kenendy Mason/WUFT News)

Alachua County resident Kiana Clayton got a home of her own last Thursday.

Clayton, 26, is a manager and cook at Bev’s Drive-Thru. She has worked there for the past decade. She needed help finding an affordable place to live, so she turned to her sister for guidance, who just recently moved through the help of Alachua Habitat for Humanity’s homeownership program.

“The neighborhood I was in was a very dangerous neighborhood,” she said. “It wasn't a good place to be in," Clayton said. "This was the best option for me to move.”

The program provides families who would not otherwise qualify for a traditional mortgage or with low income the opportunity to become homeowners.

Clayton applied and was accepted. According to the organization’s website, to qualify as a Habitat Homeowner candidate, applicants must “demonstrate that your household is cost-burdened or that your current housing situation is unsafe, inadequate for your family’s needs, overcrowded, temporary, or in a high-income area.” The website also said, “once a house is complete, the Habitat homeowner purchases the house with a zero-interest or zero-equivalent interest mortgage with affordable monthly payments.”

She said she is thankful to live somewhere safe, with a zero-interest mortgage.

“I’m very extremely grateful for everything Habitat has done,” Clayton said.

Alachua Habitat for Humanity employees, the mayor of High Springs, Clayton’s family members and Pastor Greg Waltermire of First Baptist Church of High Springs all came together on Oct. 19 to celebrate the completion of Clayton’s new home. It was Alachua Habitat’s 178th homebuild and 11th interfaith build which is “funded and built by members of local faith communities.”

Mayor Gloria James spoke, Pastor Waltermire prayed, Clayton cut the ribbon, and her dad, Brooce Clayton, cheered her on.

“It means a lot to her,” Brooce Clayton said. “She works real hard. She deserves it.”

While she now gets to kick her feet up, relax and enjoy; the process of building wasn’t easy. She put “over 250 hours of sweat equity, so that is working every Saturday all day to build this home,” said Stevie Doyle, executive director at Alachua Habitat for Humanity.

“She laid the sod, she did the landscaping, she nailed together the walls, she put together the cabinets,” Doyle said. “She knows the house in and out.”

Her dad said she enjoyed working on her own home. Plus, she had 105 volunteers that worked 903 volunteer hours to help her.

“She was looking forward to it every Saturday morning,” Brooce Clayton said.

In addition, applicants are “required to maintain a debt/income ratio of 43% or lower and meet a minimum of 40% average median income throughout the duration of the program,” according to the Alachua Habitat for Humanity website.

Mayor James is very familiar with Alachua Habitat, as they helped with another High Springs home in the past. When she realized it was going to be an Alachua Habitat home, she said she was thrilled. The lot used to be a funeral home, and she said “it was just weeds everywhere.”

“As the mayor of High Springs, I was even more elated, because it got a wooded area off of our roads,” she said.

Doyle said the city of High Springs donated lots so the organization could expand their homeownership program in the area.

“Homeowners really want to live in the area and be a part of the community,” she said.

Alachua Habitat for Humanity has built a total of 30 homes since 2020. So far this year, they have built seven homes, not counting the two High Springs homes. Doyle said they hope to reach 200 homes by 2025.

James said she is going to do everything she can as mayor to make sure that the city of High Springs can continue allowing homes like these to be built in her community.

“This is a perfect way to fulfill the requirements for both sides, and that’s a beautiful thing,” James said.

Homes like these are often transformative for Alachua County residents. Clayton now has an easy drive to work, making it easy to take care of her home.

“Run there, run back, I do it every day,” she said. “I had to come back to water my grass. So it’s not a long commute at all.”

For Clayton, a home represents more than just a house—it’s a sanctuary where she can feel safe, loved, and create cherished memories. She said some memories she is looking forward to are those in the kitchen.

“I don’t know how to cook,” she said. “But I have a lot of new cookbooks I'd love to try out.”

The home was sponsored by City of High Springs, State Farm, the Amazing Give, Florida Housing Finance Corporation, Jack and Irma Hoornstra Foundation, Ox Strong Moving, Alachua County Housing Programs and HCA Florida HealthCare.

Lauren Lettelier, director of communications for HCA Florida North Florida Hospital, said the hospital has been involved with Alachua Habitat for Humanity throughout the years, and it is something they are very passionate about.

“Our caregivers love coming and having that hands-on ability to help build the house with the homeowner.”

She said she was awed by the inside of the home when she entered.

“I think the floors are absolutely stunning,” she said. “I want them for my own home.”

The most recent home built, number 179 for the non-profit, was dedicated on Monday, just down the street from Clayton.