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NSP2 staff gathers to share best practices as deadline nears

By Julie Gurnon

In its final push to spend 100 percent of Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2 funds by next year’s Feb. 11 deadline, Habitat for Humanity International held a third and final NSP2 Peer-Learning and Networking Forum in Naples, Florida, this week.

About 85 staff members from HFHI and its seven partner affiliates gathered at the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club. Habitat for Humanity of Collier County, in Naples, served as host to Habitat staff from Americus, Atlanta and affiliates in Dallas, Texas; Los Angeles, California; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; New York, New York; and Miami and Pensacola, Florida.

“With God’s grace, and grace to each other, we’ve really come a long way,” said Jeff Pope, HFHI’s senior director of neighborhood revitalization. “I think it’s the best partnership HFHI has ever had with affiliates.”

NSP2 staff members from HFHI and affiliates in their Dream Team T-shirts at Regal Acres, one of Habitat for Humanity of Collier County’s communities.

Highlights from the first day included a bus tour of Habitat Collier County’s work in nearby Immokalee, where the affiliate built its first 100 homes, and its work in Naples, including some of the foreclosed homes it has acquired and rehabilitated with NSP2 funds.}

“Before NSP2, I was the biggest naysayer of rehabbing homes,” said Nick Kouloheras, executive vice president of land development at Habitat Collier County and a tour bus guide. “Now I’m a born-again rehab person. NSP2 opened our eyes to rehabbing, and it taught us that it’s OK to change and try new things.”

Later that evening, attendees gave a standing ovation to Mario Artecona, the chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Miami, who played his guitar and performed a rendition of the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have To Do Is Dream” — with lyrics he rewrote for NSP2:

Drea-ea-ea-ea-eam, dream, dream team
Drea-ea-ea-ea-eam, dream, dream team

1,200 homes, possibly more
We’ll get it done, to HUD we swore
But the clock is ticking
So all we want to do is scre-ea-ea-ea-eam

We’re trying to spend the cash
And make a great big splash
With partner families every day
Only trouble is, gee whiz
The time just keeps ticking away

Other highlights included speakers Christy Prahl, New Communities program director for Bickerdike Redevelopment Corp. in Chicago, and Joe Honeycutt, HFHI’s financial organizational development consultant.

The speakers led discussions on key issues for affiliates as NSP2 winds down.

Prahl presented a case study about the challenges and successes involved in the communitywide collaborations to revitalize Humboldt Park in northwest Chicago. Honeycutt gave much-appreciated direction on how to keep going financially after NSP2 funds run out.

The event included discussions and networking activities, such as dine-arounds.

“We’re all in the same boat together, so learning best practices, just bonding and having those conversations about what’s working for each of the affiliates is great,” said Veronica Garcia, vice president of advocacy and community relations at Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles.

Irwin Stallworth, Pensacola Habitat for Humanity’s family services director, had similar thoughts.

“Each affiliate is so unique, and they all bring different perspectives that everyone can learn from,” he said.

“That’s the purpose of networking — to hear those fresh ideas and then take them back and enhance what we’re doing in our own affiliates. I’m enjoying it thoroughly.”

The NSP2 team members from Atlanta and Americus helped facilitate discussions, answered questions about the final closeout requirements and, yes, worked remotely on their laptops.

As the latest figures attest, Habitat has made significant progress since NSP2 began 32 months ago. But there is still much to do, and the next four months might be the toughest yet.

Julie Gurnon is NSP2 writer/editor for Habitat for Humanity International based in Americus

Current NSP2 numbers
Amount awarded to seven affiliates: $128.2 million
Amount drawn as of Oct. 10: $101.8 million (79 percent)
Number of properties given environmental review clearance: 2,075
Proposed number of homes/families served: 1,200
Number of homes completed: 744
Number of homes under construction/rehab: 309