Author: Christian Ayala

Rural Studio at Habitat for Humanity International Affiliate Conference

Welcome to our recap of the 2024 Habitat for Humanity Affiliate Conference, a gathering that epitomized collaboration, innovation, and community empowerment. Held in the vibrant city of Atlanta, GA, between March 4-7, this event brought together over 2,000 passionate individuals dedicated to the efforts of housing affordability. With an extensive offering of more than 150 workshops, the Front Porch team along with our partners had the opportunity to lead panels and present in sessions on diverse topics influencing the future of housing initiatives. Proudly sponsoring at the Bronze Hammer level, we showcased our commitment to driving impactful change across the Southeast, unveiling collaborative research and highlighting our regional footprint. Our Front Porch team, actively engaged with current Habitat partners and initiated connections with potential future collaborations.

One of our innovative and active Housing Partners, New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity, was honored with 2024 Best in Climate Resiliency National Home Design Award for their Rural Studio-designed homes. This award recognizes the incorporation of high-preforming and resilient design features in the rebuilding efforts in Jean Lafitte, Louisiana. To learn more about this project and our collaboration with NOLAHFH, see our case study in Jean Lafitte.     

At the conference, we were extremely fortunate to be given the valuable opportunity to moderate and present at several workshops alongside our Housing Affiliate Partners. This experience allowed us to not only share our expertise and insights but also to collaborate closely with our partners, exchanging ideas and knowledge to create meaningful and engaging sessions for all participants. It was a rewarding experience that strengthened our relationships and contributed to discourse of the conference as a whole.

Dollars and Sense: How to Select and Implement Performance Improvements with Grant Funding


  • Betsy Farrell Garcia, Auburn University Rural Studio
  • Mark Grantham, Auburn-Opelika Habitat for Humanity
  • Carmen Smith, Chipola Area Habitat for Humanity

The presenters discussed the ongoing research with Habitat affiliates and Auburn University Rural Studio that demonstrates how the savings realized from improved building performance can be shifted from an operational expense to an investment in the value of a home. The two affiliates shared their decision-making process for using BuildBetter with Whirlpool grant funding on energy efficiency and resilience improvements. For more information on these case studies please see: AOHFH Stevens Street and CAHFH Chipola Street

BuildBetter with Whirlpool: A Shared Vision for Climate-Resilient Housing


  • Rusty Smith, Auburn University Rural Studio
  • Teunis Aarnoudse, Habitat for Humanity East Bay/Silicon Valley
  • Edwin Hensley, Habitat for Humanity International
  • Rosa Skinner, Whirlpool
  • Wendi Goodlett, Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County

In this session, the participants interacted with an affiliate implementor, research partner (Rural Studio), and Whirlpool representative. The Habitat affiliates shared their resources to successfully implement and achieve these shared goals.  Each initiative’s research partner discussed lessons learned about homebuyer satisfaction and the impacts this technology has on affordable housing and how that can support our decision-making for future builds and even our storytelling.

Build Influence: Actionable and Systems-Based Innovations in Housing Affordability


  • Mackenzie Stagg, Auburn University Rural Studio
  • Marguerite Oestreicher, New Orleans Area Habitat
  • Carmen Smith, Chipola Area Habitat for Humanity

This panel session shared actionable pathways for going “beyond the build” by seeking opportunities to influence the larger systems in which Habitat homes are situated. Panelists presented tangible examples and results from successful pilots for how Habitat affiliates have engaged in influencing zoning policy, diversification of financing, and expansion of home product lines while collaborating with organizations, including colleges and universities, government agencies, financial institutions, and other community development agencies. For more information on these case studies please see: NOLAHFH Jean Lafitte and CAHFH Chipola Street.

We also want to highlight and share some other great and impactful work sessions led by our external Partners that we were able to attend and support.

Affordable Home Financing: Emerging Options and Opportunities


  • Sidra Goldwater, Fannie Mae
  • Cynthia Williams, Chipola Area Habitat for Humanity
  • Dwane Krumme, Habitat for Humanity of La Pine Sunriver
  • Sara Padilla, Habitat for Humanity of Oregon

They discussed emerging and existing pathways to expand financing options for homebuyers. They presented a collaborative pilot project that demonstrates how sweat equity can be an acceptable source for Fannie Mae’s HomeReady mortgage loans and add value to closing. The first implementation of this product was in collaboration with Rural Studio’s Front Porch Initiative in the Chipola Street development in Mariana, Florida.

Weaving the Work: How Strategic Partnerships and Collaboration Advance Black Homeownership


  • Maria Evans, Fannie Mae
  • Brooke Walker, Minnesota Homeownership Center;
  • Robyn Bipes-Timm, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity;
  • Aarica Coleman, City of Bloomington, Minnesota;
  • Talaya Lawson-Shoals and Shereese Turner, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity

In this session, the presenters covered the discovery of shared objectives, innovation, resource sharing, market access, risk mitigation, negotiation, and agreements, along with the evaluation and adjustments necessary for a fruitful alliance. The speakers elaborated on the Twin Cities Habitat’s ongoing collaboration with Fannie Mae, Minnesota’s Homeownership Center, and the City of Bloomington in weaving a tapestry of strategic partnership.