The freshly painted rooms are largely empty, but Ray and Kerri Gonzalez made sure that their first day in their first home had the important stuff — a shelf already arranged with family photos. • For the young couple, their 2,300-square-foot home in gated Sterling Hill seemed almost too good to be true as they looked around on Thursday.
Their house carries a monthly mortgage payment of $657. Even with property taxes, their payment will be less than what they had been paying the last few years for a 1,300-square-foot rental on Mariner Boulevard.
The couple's good fortune, though, was made possible by someone else's hardship.
When they closed on the house on New Year's Eve, the Gonzalezes became the first family in Hernando County to get a home through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.
The federal program was designed to get foreclosed homes off the market, help first-time homeowners and put people to work making those sales and fixing up those properties.
Kerri Gonzalez, 30, a nurse who works at Trinity Regional Rehab Center, said she and her husband, 32, a mental heath aide at Springbrook Hospital, have been looking for a home for some time. They wanted more room for themselves and their 18-month-old son Cameron.
"We always got shot down,'' she said. But then they heard about the new program. "We wouldn't have gotten this house without the NSP,'' she said.
Her husband agreed.
"It was all timing,'' he said. "With the NSP program and the economy being the way it is, it all came together all at once.''
On Thursday, Jean Rags, the county's director of health and human services, visited the couple. It was a scene straight out of Good Housekeeping.
Young Cameron was fast asleep in his already decorated nursery, while his parents joked about how his daddy was looking forward to puttering around his new home. A home improvement show played on the television in their family room.
"We're so glad to be able to get you into the home of your dreams,'' Rags told them. "It was a very nice and fitting close to the old year.''
Kerri Gonzalez said she loved all the space, noting how toys and baby things had taken over the rental house. She said she expected the family to have many happy, safe years in their new home.
The home was built in 2006 with three bedrooms, two baths and a three-car garage. Property appraiser records show the home sold in 2006 for $245,000, then went into foreclosure. The Gonzalezes paid just $133,000, but $20,000 of that was picked up through the new program, making the monthly payment more affordable.
The county was awarded $4.3 million in federal neighborhood stabilization funds, which target communities in the greatest need. In Hernando, the areas identified were throughout the Spring Hill area as well as within the city of Brooksville.
Areas of need were determined by the percentage of foreclosures, the number of subprime mortgages and the risk of additional foreclosures.
Hernando's program was approved by the state in August. It offers qualified home buyers up to $50,000 in a zero percent interest-deferred loan. The money can be used to fix up homes, pay closing costs and for down payment assistance.
Applicants must meet moderate- to middle-income guidelines: Earning $47,450 or less for a single person; $54,250 for two people, and $61,000 for a family of three.
The loan is attached to the home as a lien. If the owner lives there between five and 15 years, depending on the loan amount, that loan is forgiven.
The county still has more than $3 million still available for the program and plans to help several hundred home buyers with those funds. Already, 130 have applied and 60 are going through the screening process, Rags said.
All funds must be committed by the end of August, so the race is on to get as many people into the process as soon as possible, Rags said.
"We are, one house at a time, taking these foreclosed homes off the market and one applicant at a time putting people into stable housing situations,'' Rags said.
Contractors to fix up the foreclosed homes and other professionals related to real estate sales and banking have also benefitted from the business and Rags said she hopes that other vendors will continue to visit the program's Web site to sign up to provide needed services.
A second phase of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program is an additional $1.3 million that the county will use to provide rental assistance to low-income families and individuals. The county plans to use community-based housing providers to accomplish that goal.
Later this month, Rags said the county will put out a request for proposals seeking plans by housing providers to evaluate and consider funding.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.