FORT LAUDERDALE - It's been just over a year since representatives from the Florida Panthers, Moss Construction and H.O.M.E.S. Inc. came together at a vacant lot near downtown Fort Lauderdale to break ground on an ambitious project to build eight affordable houses for those in need.
The Florida Panthers Foundation and Moss each donated $100,000 towards the endeavor, which was carried out through H.O.M.E.S Inc, a local non-profit that works to provide quality community and economic development programs for lower-income, at-risk and disadvantaged Broward County residents.
"There's a need for affordable housing, especially right here in Broward County," Panthers Chief Operating Officer Sean McCaffrey said. "We're happy to support this. It's the first of eight homes in a neighborhood that need home ownership. It's proven that the more people own homes in a neighborhood, the more stable it becomes. We're really happy to be a part of that."
In late April, all three organizations reunited to celebrate the closing of the project's first home - a newly completed three-bedroom, two-bathroom single-family home with a two-car garage. The home is owned by Edwidge Alexandre, a local leasing agent and single mother of two children.
Alexandre invested 3 percent of the purchase price from her own savings and received a purchase assistance subsidy through the Broward County First-Time Homebuyer's program.
"It's really a blessing," Alexandre said. "I feel so blessed to have been picked."
Prior to moving into her new home, Alexandre lived in a two-bedroom duplex. Now, each of her children have their own bedroom and are "always running all over the house." The biggest draw, however, is the large, fenced-in backyard, where she said the kids spend a lot of their free time.
"They've never had a backyard before, so they just want to be out there," Alexandre said with a smile. "They're very happy… When they first walked into the house they were just running around saying, "Is this my room!?" They also love the kitchen. We're all just very happy."
Alexandre said she and her children are now proud Panthers fans.
"I do watch hockey sometimes, but I've never been to a game," she said. "I'd love to see one."
Founded in 1998, H.O.M.E.S. Inc., works to provide homeownership opportunities to low-to-moderate income working families in what has become a very difficult South Florida real estate market that currently has little to offer in terms of affordable price ranges.
In addition to connecting families with quality-built homes, the organization also offers these buyers eight hours of HUD certified homebuyer education, free financial counseling, access to existing neighborhood groups and up to $40,000 in down payment and closing cost assistance.
"The Panthers are contributing each time we start a house for a series of houses, and so is Moss Construction," said H.O.M.E.S. Inc. President and Founder Katharine Barry. "It's just been a great partnership. I wish all the sports teams were like that. As far as I can tell, the Florida Panthers are uniquely contributing to our community."
Barry said the development of the project's other seven homes is also moving along nicely.
"We're just so proud of our buyers and so proud of our partnership with Broward County and Moss and the Panthers," she said. "Without all of that, none of this could happen… It's not just decent housing, it's nice housing for people that are deserving in our community."
The relationship between the Panthers and H.O.M.E.S. Inc. started with the Florida Panthers Foundation's Community Championship Grant Program, which is presented by Moss. Entering its fourth season, the program has committed over $3 million of its original $5 million over five years pledge to local charitable organizations.
During the 2017-18 season, H.O.M.E.S. Inc. was awarded a separate $25,000 donation.
"We are always excited to award these grants at games, but when we're actually able to come out and see these organizations live and see the fruits of that labor, we couldn't be more excited and more happy," Executive Director of the Florida Panthers Foundation Lauren Simone said. "We love watching the games and we love when the team's on the ice, but no matter if they are or not, the Florida Panthers are always in the community. This offseason, we're excited to be out in the community, to be volunteering and to be partnering with these organizations."