Citrus County Housing Director Heidi Blanchette, left, discusses a 51 contract for the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) with Realtor® Cheryl Lambert, who works with the program.
INVERNESS, Fla. – What happens when you find out that good news – a raise – at work may result in your family losing their place to live? Where do you go for help?
That’s the dilemma that Stephanie faced when she found out that, because of a recent raise, her rent was doubling in the affordable housing complex she lived in with her three children.
“Her rent was going from $550 a month to $1,100 a month, and she couldn’t afford that on a Walmart salary,” says Cheryl Lambert, a sales associate with Only Way Realty in Inverness. Lambert was introduced to Stephanie through Florida Low Income Housing Associates, a non-profit organization that provides, creates and preserves low-cost, affordable housing for residents of rural Florida.
“I sat down with Stephanie and her story was heartbreaking,” Lambert says. “She had lived in a van with her three children while escaping an abusive situation. She finally got a job at Walmart and a place to live, but her dream was to own a home. I counseled her and explained to her what she needed to do to secure a mortgage. In a month and a half, Stephanie did it. She got approved for a mortgage.
“About 20 days later, she closed on a house and only pays $401 a month. Stephanie never thought she would have the American dream of homeownership and now she has it – and is working on her next dream of tap dancing,” laughs Lambert.
Passion in Spades
It’s all in a day’s work for Lambert, who is passionate about helping families become homeowners. It all started when Lambert, who retired from an executive position with a large corporation, read about the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP), a grant system of funding improvements on bank-owned foreclosed properties through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Homes are rehabbed and then sold to moderate and low-income homebuyers.
“My passion is about helping my community and helping them recover from the past market crash,” she says. “I found my passion and if you love what you do, then you never have to work a day in your life.”
Laying the Groundwork
Lambert was already familiar with the NSP.
“I knew it had success in Detroit, and I was excited it became a national program,” she says. “I went after it and positioned myself as the housing representative for the program. After all, the program needed help identifying houses to be rehabbed, and they needed someone to find buyers.”
Through the program, each county automatically receives money to help eligible homebuyers.
“I’m a tech nerd, so as soon as I saw that the money came in, I set up appointments with housing directors of those counties and worked with them,” Lambert says. “They needed help identifying homes to buy. There are very specific criteria; such as a home couldn’t be a sinkhole home. Plus, I could help them identify the areas of the greatest need.”
Citrus County put the program out for bid for Realtors and Lambert won it. For years, Lambert taught the eight-hour homebuyer education course that was a requirement for purchasing an NSP home. “During the time I was teaching this course, the classes went from about 20 people to 100 people,” she says. Lambert now works with the NSP programs in Citrus, Hernando and Marion counties.
For Lambert, it’s not about the commission check. It’s about the feeling she gets helping others.
“Who has the right to say only certain people can have the American dream?” she asks.
With the program, she helps put together grants. She also helps coordinate other community services so that she can find assistance for all of her buyers’ needs.
“I coordinate nonprofits such as workforce to help buyers get jobs, money management help and tutoring for the kids. Once we instill pride in these potential homebuyers we can get them back to being homeowners,” Lambert says.
“There’s no ‘can’t’ in my vocabulary. It’s can, when and how. Set your goal and get there. I do believe Realtors® can make a difference. I understand that many want the quick sale, but for me it’s about paying it forward. Obviously, these aren’t quick sales, but if I can help and pay it forward with knowledge and guidance, then that’s what it’s all about,” she says.
Despite an average sale of $50,000, Lambert still sold about $3.6 million in volume last year.
Unfortunately, the NSP won’t be funding the grants anymore. “The grant closed March 30, 2013,” says Lambert. “However, if you ran your program right, you still have funds. Every time I sell a house, the money comes in as program income, so we have a nest egg, a good year’s worth of funds to buy houses and rehab them.”
But Lambert adds, “Affordable housing needs to change. A first-time homebuyer used to be just that—people buying their first home. Now, a first-time homebuyer is someone who hasn’t owned a home in three years,” she says. “Citrus County is middle-class America, and, when it comes to buying a home, many people need help.
“With the programs that our municipalities have, such as NSP (Neighborhood Stabilization Program), H.O.M.E., SHIP and CLT (Community Land Trust), there are so many options to offer housing assistance for folks within our communities.”
Lambert is as dedicated to her profession as she is to helping others. A member of the Realtor® Association of Citrus County, she has taken additional education courses to enhance her knowledge and expertise, earning the professional designation of Short Sales and Foreclosure Resource (SFR) from the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). She serves as Florida Realtors’ 2014 District 7 vice president, which covers Lake, Sumter, Hernando, Marion and Citrus counties.