Building New Hope in Historic River Park

Walls Up

This spring, Habitat volunteers and staff were joined by Naples Mayor Bill Barnett and members of the Naples City Council to raise the first walls of a single-family home in the River Park East neighborhood. The lot was donated by the City of Naples to create a pathway to homeownership for a deserving family in an area where skyrocketing land values typically make affordable homeownership impossible.

“This is a great opportunity for a family in our community to purchase a home affordably within the City of Naples,” says Habitat Collier CEO, Lisa Lefkow. “Our hope is that this home is a sense of pride for both the homeowner and for their neighbors in River Park.


Developed in the 1960’s as a segregated neighborhood to house black workers, River Park is one of Naples’ oldest neighborhoods and still home to a majority of its African American residents. Due to its desirable location in the heart of Naples, the low-income neighborhood has seen rising rents in recent years and developers looking to purchase properties in the area, a cause for concern to residents.

It’s a concern that Shauana, the future owner of River Park’s first Habitat home, knows all too well.

“Sometimes you get families that are living paycheck to paycheck—basically, can’t pay the rent—sometimes they have to save, two, three paychecks.”

Revitalizing River Park

The concern of blight in the area has grown tremendously in recent years. With the need for revitalization in River Park becoming more and more apparent, the Naples City Council has begun to take steps to make a difference, including the proposal of a partnership with Habitat Collier to help revitalize the area. Last May, the Council voted unanimously to donate a lot in its inventory to Habitat Collier to build an affordable home in the neighborhood. The walls of that home were raised in a special gathering on March 20th.

“There is nothing not to love about what Habitat does and what you’re doing today. It’s just really awesome!” Naples Mayor Bill Barnett said. “This is the first piece of property in the city that was donated to Habitat for Humanity.”

Because of the special significance of this home and its location in the historic River Park neighborhood, it was important that the person who purchases the home be just the right fit. Out of all of the applications we received, there was one that stood out as the perfect match.

“Year after year, I’ve been renting and the rent is constantly increasing,” Shauana wrote in her application to partner with Habitat. “I am looking for a place to make a home for my family”

Home Again

Shauana was born and raised in River Park, all of her 38 years spent in the close-knit community. When she started a family of her own, she never imagined that she would find herself priced out of the place she had called home her entire life. Though expensive at nearly $1,000 a month, the three-bedroom, one-bath apartment she shares with her four children isn’t large enough for the whole family.

Despite the tight quarters, the family remained positive and made it work, but Shauana still wanted a bigger space with room for everyone. Unfortunately, the ever-increasing Naples housing market made it impossible for her to purchase a home through conventional means—even with her working two jobs.


She applied to Habitat not knowing there might be an opportunity to remain in the neighborhood she had known her whole life. When she found out that she was approved to partner with Habitat to build and purchase her own affordable home, she felt like God had answered her prayers.

Not thinking there would be an opportunity to purchase a home in their neighborhood, the family was planning to move somewhere else and try something new. When Shauana learned Habitat was building a house in River Park and that she had the option to purchase it with a no-interest mortgage, she held a family meeting to see how her kids felt about staying.

“I’m not doing this for me, it’s all for my kids, so I asked them what they thought. They said we should go for it,” says Shauana. “I could be gone tomorrow, but knowing that my children will have a home and have that security… that’s why I’m doing this.”

Now Shauana and her family are hard at work putting in sweat equity hours and helping to build their future home. She says she feels a sense of pride in working on her home and she loves working with Habitat staff and volunteers.

“It feels great, you put in work and you learn new things– things you never thought you would do. I was scared of heights and thought I’d never get on a ladder, and now I have.”

Local Businesses Pitch In

The home has become a true community effort with volunteers from the community providing much of the labor and local businesses stepping up to volunteer their professional services. Local firms MHK Architecture and Planning, Forge Engineering, Davidson Engineering and Dagostino & Wood have all lent their talents to help design a home that speaks to the special charm and character of the City of Naples.

While Habitat Collier normally builds from a few existing floorplans, this initiative gave us the unique opportunity to work with one of the area’s premier architects, MHK Architecture & Planning, to design something different. 

They typically work on multi-million-dollar homes, so when we pitched the idea to them to build an affordable home in their style, they were up for the challenge. Some notable differences in the new design are the larger square footage and incorporation of sliding glass doors to highlight the home’s location on the Gordon River, a first for a Habitat Collier home.

With construction underway and Shauana hard at work on her 500-hour sweat equity commitment, the Habitat team expects the home to be complete and ready for the family to move in by mid-summer.

While it’s safe to say that there are many things that are unique about our latest build, there’s still one thing that holds true. This home will provide an affordable option for a deserving family in our community to finally fulfill their dreams of homeownership. With a no-interest mortgage, Shauana and her children can feel confident in the stability of their new forever home.




Donate today to be part of a new beginning for a family like Shauana’s.