published Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

CNE picks new executive director to lead Chattanooga's neighborhood revitalization

MEET MARTINA GUILFOIL

• Job: Executive director of Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise, replacing Ric Ebersole.

• Previous employment: Executive director for Orange County Housing Trust in Anaheim, Calif.

• Education: Bachelor of arts in community development from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.; master degree coursework in urban planning from the University of California, Los Angeles.

• Experience: 27 years in affordable housing and healthy neighborhood efforts, from Inglewood, Calif., to Sarasota, Fla.

• Fast fact: Guilfoil is the former head of the national trade association of NeighborWorks organizations, where she testified as an expert before Congress and lobbied officials to advance affordable housing in the U.S.

Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise has selected its next Pied Piper, choosing Californian Martina Guilfoil as the nonprofit's new executive director.

"She really just blew the search committee away," said Stephen Johnson, chairman of CNE's board. "She just has a strong combination of operational and financial skill. A lot of times you get one or the other, but she has both."

That's a key requirement for the chief of CNE, an organization that serves a number of roles in Chattanooga that to the untrained eye may at times appear incompatible or even in conflict.

CNE does everything from making loans that help less-qualified homebuyers, to directing money to those who need it the most from federal programs like foreclosure prevention or weatherization grants. The organization counsels homeowners who have trouble paying their mortgages, but also works to collect payments from those same homeowners. It helps revitalize aging property for landowners, but also buys and improves its own land for future projects.

In some ways, CNE is like a combination banker, Santa Claus, teacher and repo man, all rolled up into one organization that's tasked with rebuilding Chattanooga's neighborhoods. But the scope of the mission doesn't bother Guilfoil, she said, nor does the mandate to balance that mission with the necessity of making enough money to keep the doors open.

"The bottom line is that CNE is a business, and nonprofit is a tax status," Guilfoil said on Monday. "It's a balancing act, and it's one I've done pretty successfully over the course of my career."

That means spending money where necessary to fulfill the organization's mission to improve Chattanooga's neediest neighborhoods, but also not shying away from sound business practices that keep the money coming in.

It's too soon to talk about how the organization's mission will change under Guilfoil's leadership, she said. But board members report that new initiatives are already underway to purchase and redevelop valuable land in some of the city's more vulnerable neighborhoods, as well as reorganize CNE to become more central to the city's efforts at community redevelopment.

Though the city's future commitment to the organization -- which was created by U.S. Sen. Bob Corker to promote affordable housing -- is unclear pending the late July release of Mayor Andy Berke's proposed budget, Guilfoil will have a better idea where CNE stands when she arrives in September.

Lacie Stone, director of communications for the city, declined to comment on how the city's relationship with CNE would be structured under the Berke administration. But Stone reiterated the mayor's campaign pledge to help promote safe, affordable and healthy neighborhoods in Chattanooga.

"Community development is a big deal to the mayor," said Stone. "There is no doubt in our mind that CNE provides an important service to community, and we're looking forward to working with them and their new executive director."

Guilfoil in September will take the reins of an organization that has struggled in recent years to focus on its objective to revitalize the Scenic City's neighborhoods, while also working to put financial questions and legal problems behind it. While accusations of sloppy record-keeping and questions of managerial misconduct have been raised at CNE in the past, board members can't discuss pending litigation and say that the organization is doing all it can to move forward.

Guilfoil will join CNE, which has partially funded its $7 million budget through a grant from the city, after she completes her current assignment at the Orange County Housing Trust in Anaheim, Calif.

Prior to that, she served as executive director of the Rainier Valley Community Development Fund in Seattle, and previously worked as CEO of the Community Housing Trust in Sarasota, Fla.

Guilfoil has also served as executive director of Inglewood Neighborhood Housing Services in California from 1986 to 2006, and led the National Neighborworks Association from 2003 to 2006 in Washington, D.C.

The 30-year affordable housing veteran was chosen from a field of more than 50 hopefuls that included both local and national candidates from both coasts.

Contact staff writer Ellis Smith at esmith@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6315.

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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