St Petersburg hosts Great Neighborhoods Conference
This week, the 13th annual Florida’s Great Neighborhoods Conference is being held in downtown St. Petersburg. It brings together municipalities, non-profits, and neighborhood associations to brainstorm the best ways to serve neighborhoods throughout the state.
More than 400 people from around the state are participating in a series of workshops on topics ranging from homelessness to community gardening.
Susan Ajoc is neighborhood partnership director with the City of St. Petersburg and an organizer of the conference. “The conference is about neighborhoods. … Let’s bring the neighbors of the state of Florida together so that they can network.”
Friday’s workshop sessions focused on issues of importance to neighborhoods, such as the use of federal funds to purchase unoccupied homes. In a workshop on dealing with the foreclosure crisis, Coral Springs senior planner Jaci Foster says foreclosures in her Broward County city have more than doubled since 2007.
Gladys Schneider, technical assistance director with Florida Housing Coalition, ran a workshop on the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, or NSP. “The main purpose is to purchase properties that are foreclosed and owned by banks. And the purpose of that is to get these properties off of the banks’ books and to put them into useful use in the community. And he NSP program has an income limit of 120% of the area median income for buyers. So it’s more for your lower-income working people to be able to purchase these homes, get them rehabilitated, move into them as permanent housing, and put them back on the tax rolls.”
Last year, Congress allocated $4 billion for the NSP and Florida received $541 million. Under this February’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, $2 billion more were allocated to what is being called NSP2.
But the program is not without controversy. Schneider says banks benefit, but the program doesn’t stop foreclosures or guarantee that potential homeowners will be able to get loans.
“The purpose of the money is to purchase the homes from the banks. So the banks get the lion’s share of the funds. But the theory is that they would then have more liquidity and be able to lend back into that community. But a large portion of the funds will be used for rehabilitation, which pays for contractors, inspectors, title companies, appraisers, surveyors. That’s local money, that’s people that are working in the community on these homes.”
Beverly Toney is the director of community development with the faith-based organization Fresh Ministries. They have helped manage home rehabilitations in Jacksonville. She is also concerned about banks receiving NSP and bailout funds, but refusing to lend to the people who need it the most.
“It really is double-dipping. I don’t think the general public generally knows that we are actually paying the banks to get this off of their books. And then in return everyone knows that they are not going to lend to the people that most need it. … We definitely say ‘you can afford this [house]’ or ‘you can not afford this.’ If they had let us – the CDCs [Community Development Corporations] and the non-profits – just work the way they had been, we wouldn’t be in this situation. So now we’re paying them to take this off their books. Everyone already knows about the billions of dollars that they’ve received on the forefront, but they don’t really know that now we’re paying [banks] for them to take this [houses] of their books and then the money is not even going to come back to the people who really need it.”
Congress is rumored to be considering a third Neighborhood Stabilization Program, according to Gladys Schneider from the Florida Housing Coalition.
The Florida’s Great Neighborhoods Conference continues on Saturday at the St. Petersburg Hilton Bayfront with a session at 9:30 am. It concludes with a keynote luncheon with St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker at 11 am.
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