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Hagan family gets new wheelchair-friendly home with help of St. Lucie Habitat for Humanity

The St. Lucie News-Tribune logo The St. Lucie News-Tribune 11/25/2021 Olivia McKelvey, Treasure Coast Newspapers

PORT ST. LUCIE—  "Life-changing."

That's how Tessa Hagan described the news that her family would be moving into a new home with the help of St. Lucie Habitat for Humanity.

Hagan's daughter Elisabeth, 17, was diagnosed at birth with cytomegalovirus, an infection that led to health complications such as seizures and loss of muscle control. 

Certain features the Hagan family doesn't currently have —  such as a roll-in shower, wider bedroom entrances and a ramp  — will be "game changers" since Elisabeth uses a wheelchair. 

"Right now we have to carry her into the bathroom and she has some hardware in one of her hips. There's actually a risk factor of dropping her," Hagan said. "... I think being able to see her have a real bath and not struggle or (there be) a risk factor, that's huge for me." 

The Hagan family will move into one of eight homes that St. Lucie Habitat for Humanity is building in Port St. Lucie. © Contributed from Tessa Hagan The Hagan family will move into one of eight homes that St. Lucie Habitat for Humanity is building in Port St. Lucie.

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The Hagans' new three-bedroom, two-bathroom home will be either in Indian River Estates, Lakewood Park or on Harvard Road. A location has not been chosen, Hagan said. 

Habitat for Humanity also is constructing seven other affordable homes in St. Lucie County. Four are in the permitting process and three are expected to be built by March, according to Bob Calhoun, executive director of St. Lucie Habitat for Humanity. 

The Hagans and others selected to be homeowners must contribute a certain amount of "sweat equity" hours by volunteering to help build their Habitat home or others. Financial-management and home-insurance classes also are requirements.

"We provide below-market, affordable mortgages so that the monthly payments do not exceed 30% of income for households earning 80% or less of the area median income," Calhoun said. 

Habitat for Humanity is not the only organization providing affordable housing here. 

GL Homes plans to build a 2,435-square-foot house in Woodland Trails for Kathi and Gene Sandburg — parents of Brendon Sandburg, a U.S. Navy officer who died in a helicopter crash in 2007 during a training exercise.

They will live there mortgage-free, paying only property taxes and insurance.

For the Hagans, it's been tough financially — they're now living in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom home with their other daughter and three grandchildren — to afford a new home that would better accommodate Elisabeth. 

"I've actually lost two jobs from needing to be in the hospital with (Elisabeth). So, the finances have always been tight because of that," Hagan said. "As far as coming up with a down payment and closing costs ... it's just always been tough to be able to buy a house." 

A home health nurse has helped the family, but there are occasions when a nurse is not available and Hagan, who has scoliosis and 11 herniated discs, can't lift her daughter out of the wheelchair.

The new house, though, will have space to store a lift, which will help move Elisabeth from one place to another..

Perhaps the most exciting feature of their new home, , according to Hagan, is a large kitchen table, where Elisabeth can do one of her favorite activities: arts and crafts. 

"She likes to make homemade cards or Christmas ornaments," Hagan said. "She also loves being in the kitchen when I cook." 

As construction nears on the Hagans "dream home," the family continues to put in volunteer hours and dream about their move-in day. 

"Just being able to have the wheelchair in every room and not have to leave her in one room will be so nice," Hagan said.

Olivia McKelvey is TCPalm's watchdog reporter for St. Lucie County. You can reach her at olivia.mckelvey@tcpalm.com, 772-521-4380 and on Twitter @olivia_mckelvey. 

This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Hagan family gets new wheelchair-friendly home with help of St. Lucie Habitat for Humanity

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