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Federal aid will help with foreclosures, housing issues

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County officials learned this week they could receive $5.6-million in federal aid to help low- to moderate-income families and to buy, repair and sell foreclosed homes now sitting vacant and deteriorating in the county.

The money will be awarded to communities based on the percentage of foreclosures, number of sub-prime mortgages and the risk of having more foreclosures. Hernando has been among the leaders among Florida counties in these and other indicators of economic stress, such as the unemployment rate.

The funds will come through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, part of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. Florida will receive nearly $600-million through the program.

In September, larger Florida counties and cities were notified of how much their communities would receive under the act but smaller communities had to wait until the Florida Department of Community Affairs divvied up another $91.1-million. Hernando got the second largest of those 26 additional allocations.

In order to receive the money, Hernando officials must create a plan that meets both the state and federal guidelines. The largest chunk of the allocation, $4.3-million, can go into programs to help families. The remaining $1.3-million must provide housing rental assistance for low-income residents.

The funds can go to such purposes as buying foreclosed properties, repairing them and then selling them to low- to moderate-income families. More details of what programs might qualify are expected when the state conducts training sessions for affected city and county officials later this month.

Officials are scrambling to meet deadlines to prepare plans by March. They plan to talk to business leaders to devise ways to help as many residents as possible, said Jean Rags, Hernando director of health and human services.

County staffers are working on a map to show areas of greatest need. Early indications delineate an area west of the Suncoast Parkway, south of State Road 50 and north of Countyline Road, which would include ZIP codes 34607, 34608 and 34609, areas where there were homes built from 2004 to 2006, some of them spec homes, Rags said.

"It will help a percentage of individuals in Hernando County,'' she said. "At least it will allow us to do something rather than nothing. Looking at the glass as half empty or half full, it's a start.''

Rags plans to bring details of the program to the County Commission on Dec. 16.

If Hernando's proposals do win approval, there will still be a rush to get projects under way. The program requires that communities either spend their money or obligate it within just 10 months of approval or face losing some of the money.

The money could be handed over as early as April if Hernando's plan is approved.

Rags said making those deadlines is a challenge but the program does allow an extended period of time to complete projects as long as the money is already committed.

The program is designed to help with the many communities that are riddled with abandoned and overgrown homes in foreclosure.

"The national foreclosure crisis has impacted families and communities, as well as entire cities and states which are struggling to manage the abandoned and vacant properties resulting from foreclosure and sub-prime mortgages. These vacant and abandoned properties threaten the value of homeowners, invite crime, and discourage further investment,'' according to the program's documentation.

"With input from our community and our business leaders, I feel confident that we'll be able to find a program that helps our residents,'' Rags said. "And the trickle-down effect is that it does help our construction industry, Realtors who are selling homes, title companies and banks.''

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

Federal aid will help with foreclosures, housing issues 12/05/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 8, 2008 11:39am]
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