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County wants to cast wider net for homes to rehab

BROOKSVILLE — As Hernando County works to spend the last of the federal dollars it received to stabilize neighborhoods crushed by the housing bust, it is casting a broader net.

The need: more qualifying foreclosed homes.

When county officials decided to seek another $1.95 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to continue the Neighborhood Stabilization Program in 2011, they identified a compact neighborhood in Spring Hill in which to use the money.

In that small area, the county's agent would buy up foreclosed homes, fix them and then offer them to moderate- and low-income home buyers and renters.

People who might never have been able to buy a home could get their slice of the American dream. Vacant houses would be cared for again. And area business people — from title company operators to Realtors to contractors — also would benefit.

The area chosen was bordered by Northcliffe Boulevard, Elgin Boulevard, Sheffield Road and Keysville Avenue.

The federal dollars have been used to acquire 18 foreclosed houses. Fifteen of those have been renovated, and most have been sold to new owners. Five were fixed up and are being used as rental properties for income-eligible residents.

With the money nearly spent and the end of the grant looming next March, county health and human services manager Veda Ramirez told the County Commission recently that eligible homes in the preapproved zone have become scarce.

Not all foreclosed homes qualify. The program is designed to provide affordable housing, so homes with pools don't qualify. Neither do homes older than 50 years or with sinkhole activity.

Ramirez went through the federally required process to advertise for an expansion of the boundaries and gathered public comment to support the new zone before asking the commission's approval. Two areas were recommended: a portion of Spring Hill stretching south from the existing border to County Line Road and an expansion west to U.S. 19.

Commissioners approved the expansions. Approval still is needed by HUD, which can choose either of the areas, both of them, or reject them, Ramirez said. Both of the areas meet HUD's basic requirements, she noted.

They had to have the highest percentages of foreclosed homes. They had to have been originally financed through subprime mortgage loans. And they needed to be in an area likely to see continuing foreclosures.

Ramirez told commissioners that those conditions are still true in various West Hernando ZIP codes, including 34606, 34608 and 34609.

The hope is that, in the expanded area, at least one more home can be acquired, renovated and resold. Because buyers of the homes return income to the program, there should be enough money for three or four more purchases, she said.

In the original two-year phase of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which totaled $5.6 million and ended in 2011, the county was able to provide nearly 100 families with fixed-up foreclosed homes. About 20 of those were rental properties.

Those grant dollars directly benefited local real estate, insurance and construction companies, officials said.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

>>FAST FACTS

How to apply

Hernando County's Neighborhood Stabilization Program is still accepting applications from prospective home buyers. For information, visit www.hernandodownpayment.com.

County wants to cast wider net for homes to rehab 11/29/13 [Last modified: Friday, November 29, 2013 6:48pm]

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