Habitat for Humanity is among top-ranked builders in Florida

The cranes that once soared atop South Florida's skyline and the heavy machinery that hummed along below are mostly gone.

But for at least one builder, the hammers have kept pounding through the depths of the recession.

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami, one of the few builders that hasn't cut back production, now ranks among the top five home builders in Miami-Dade, a statistic that reflects just how drastic the drop in private-sector home construction has been since the recession hit.

"There's pretty much always a need for this type of housing," said Joseph McDaniels, spokesman for Miami-Dade's Habitat operation.

On the same day that the U.S. Commerce Department released figures showing new home sales rebounding from an abysmal May, real estate consultancy Metrostudy released a report showing nonprofit Habitat among the top five builders of new homes in the county.

The Miami branch of the Christian-based organization -- which relies on volunteer builders and donations to build new homes for low-income families -- constructed and sold 79 single-family homes in the 12-month period ending in June, ranking fourth in the county.

Despite a decrease in cash donations -- gifts were down about 9 percent nationally in 2009 to $171 million -- Habitat was able to increase its production by about 50 percent last year.

The top home builder in the county, Terra Group, has sold about 116 new homes since last July, and Miami-based Lennar, the nation's third-largest home builder, closed on 91 new homes in the last year in the county.

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