The City of Clermont, county and state officials, along with members of the community, gathered to celebrate the ground breaking of Woodwinds and praise founders Steve and Linda Smith for their vision, dedication and hard work.

Ten years ago, a dedicated group of volunteers met in a small farm house off old Hwy 50 with a mission: to help and serve people in need, give each person the tools to empower him/her to live a responsible life, and provide resources to help them become contributing members of society.  Since then, New Beginnings has grown from an idea to reality.  It has acquired a donated building, which has been refurbished with the help of the city and its citizens; two transitional homes that accommodate men, women and children, a four-plex and a duplex offering affordable living; and a learning and development training center.

Four-hundred people have been helped through the support of the New Beginning thrift stores, elected officials & the community.

Clermont Mayor Gail Ash and New Beginnings Founder Steve Smith

Founder and President Steve Smith described the lack of affordable housing as being the leading cause of homelessness, which prompted New Beginnings to purchase a 10-acre site on South Grand Highway in Clermont, near the intersection of Citrus Tower Boulevard with the goal to build 96 affordable apartments.

Approved for $19 million of funding from the Florida Housing Finance Corporation last year, New Beginnings and partner, Blue Sky Communities, a leader in helping non-profit organizations create new affordable housing for their clients, began planning affordable apartments.  Woodwinds will be Clermont’s first affordable apartments built in 20 years.  The only other affordable housing apartment complex in Clermont currently has an extensive wait list of six months to two years, meaning the current needs are just not being met.

Woodwinds residents will have access to New Beginnings social services, including classes such as financial education, budgeting and career counseling, parenting, wellness, life skills, computer lab and afterschool activities programs, as well as potential summer programs for children. Rents will range from $369 to $758.  To qualify, income will range between $12,000 -$30,000 a year. There is a total of 96 units:  24, 1-bedroom; 48, 2 bedroom; and 24, 3 bedroom. In addition, a 3,000-sq. ft. clubhouse; management office, activities room, and swimming pool will be on campus.

Over 70 families have already called requesting a courtesy phone call once the application process opens in early 2018.  Completion and occupancy is currently planned for Spring 2018.

New Beginnings Vice Chairman Rocky DeStefano

Progress on the development screeched to a halt when an inspection revealed sand skinks on property. The Fish and Wildlife Service considers the 4-inch reptile a threatened species, one designation below endangered.

Originally the inspection of Woodwinds future site showed no sand skinks 2 years ago. Because the inspection only lasts for a year, the subsequent inspection uncovered signs of the sand-burrowing reptiles on 3 of the 10-acre site. This discovery required a conservation fine of $340,000, and the likely threat that construction might be delayed for 1-2 years.

Thanks in part to assistance from U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL-15), the clearance to build has finally been given to New Beginnings and Blue Sky Communities from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

“The moment I heard about possible construction stalling in the New Beginnings project, I knew we couldn’t waste any more time in helping those less fortunate obtain housing,” said Congressman Ross. “I immediately sent a letter to Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to highlight the importance of New Beginnings’ project to our community and the need for its timely completion.”

After waiting six months for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s approval to move forward following the sand skink discovery, New Beginnings received permission in late May. New Beginnings and Blue Sky hosted a groundbreaking ceremony June 30 for Woodwinds. Local, county and state government officials, including Congressman Ross’ office, attended this ceremony. The Mayor of Clermont, Gail Ash gave the opening comments.

“I am thrilled New Beginnings was able to keep a timely permitting process and was able to break ground on constructing this much-needed housing for our disadvantaged and low-income neighbors who might not have a place to live or stay otherwise,” said Congressman Ross.

Local Designer Jeff Powell and his family.