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A whirlwind year for HFHI’s seven NSP2 partners

By Julie Gurnon

This spring, dozens of families will move into new homes either built or rehabilitated because of funding from the second round of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. And hundreds more will follow.

Habitat for Humanity of Collier County in Naples, Florida, purchased and rehabilitated a foreclosed home in the Naples Manor neighborhood using NSP2 funds. Work included painting the interior and exterior; repairing windows; installing new energy-efficient appliances; landscaping; and replacing carpet, kitchen and bathroom cabinets, ceiling fans and light fixtures.

One year ago this Valentine’s Day, Habitat for Humanity International and seven U.S. Habitat affiliates officially accepted a multimillion-dollar award from NSP2, a three-year, federally funded grant program. Now the first group of acquired NSP2 properties is nearly ready, and affiliate staff members are facing the latest challenge: how to hold one dedication ceremony for many families.

It’s a good challenge to have. The opportunity to help more families is exactly why HFHI wanted to apply for NSP2 funding. The program targets declining neighborhoods burdened with high numbers of foreclosed and vacant properties. It also mirrors HFHI’s goals with the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative launched in 2009.

Work on NSP2 actually began in May 2009, when Congress announced that nonprofits could compete with state and local governments for NSP2 funds.

Unlike other federal grants, HFHI had to preselect the partner affiliates and submit a detailed plan of action for each one, including the type of work proposed, specifically targeted census tracts with high foreclosure rates, and the amount of funds requested. The application for funding — and the time it took to complete it — is a testament to the Habitat and affiliate staff members who rallied to meet a July 17, 2009, deadline, particularly HFHI’s Sue Henderson, John Snook and Brian Clifford.

“It was a whirlwind,” said Jack Bridges, NSP2 program manager at HFHI.

The federal government announced the awards on Jan. 14, 2010. HFHI was the second-largest recipient of NSP2 funds, with seven Habitat affiliates serving as the developers: Habitat for Humanity of Collier County (Naples, Florida), Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami, Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity, Habitat for Humanity New York City and Pensacola Habitat for Humanity.

It hasn’t been an easy first year. The program’s plans call for the seven affiliates to double, sometimes triple, their productivity — and complete all the work within a three-year window.

“We were building 50 to 70 houses per year, and we will be rehabilitating or redeveloping 240 properties with NSP2,” said Natalie Stolfi, director of development and communications at Pensacola Habitat for Humanity.

“There is a huge need in the Pensacola community, particularly in depressed neighborhoods still damaged from hurricanes Ivan and Dennis,” Stolfi said. “With NSP2, we knew we could focus on these neighborhoods and make a large impact.”

The incentive to help more families also drove Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity to partner with HFHI, although it faces a different problem. In Dallas County, bankrupt developers left behind a glut of vacant subdivision plots. NSP2 will enable Habitat Dallas to construct new homes on those properties. The affiliate also will use the funds to build new homes on vacant in-fill lots in older decaying neighborhoods.

The impact in Dallas County is already clear. “Last year, we pulled 105 build permits for new single-family residential construction, and most of those are NSP2 homes,” said Kristen Schulz, director of government funding for Dallas Area Habitat. “The next largest builder only pulled 59.”

Schulz also points out that the NSP2 homes are all energy-efficient, and many are going into older neighborhoods that need revitalizing.

Helping families is also why everyone involved can cope with the ever-changing nature of NSP2, a program described by Jeff Pope, senior director of neighborhood revitalization at HFHI, as “design as you go.” Stan Gimont, the director of HUD’s Office of Block Grant Assistance, described it as building a plane while it is flying.

Pope said the biggest challenge during the first year was the delay in the environmental review process, which kept the affiliates from acquiring property until June or July 2010, six months into the 36-month program.

The challenge for this year: Spend 50 percent of all funds received, a required benchmark for NSP2. It will be another roller-coaster year, but there’s no time to dwell on that. There are homes to dedicate and families who need them.

 NSP2: The First Year: The latest figures

  • Number of partner affiliates: 7 
  • Amount awarded to affiliates: $127,909,172
  • Amount drawn to date: $16,268,039
  • Proposed number of properties acquired/families served: 1,062
  • Number of current properties undergoing rehabilitation or new construction: 202
  • Number of homes under contract, for sale, or sold (to date): 48
  • Number of properties with environmental review approval: 860