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Hernando gives $3 million in grants for low-income rentals

Joey Mahoney, with BJH Construction, rolls paint Thursday at a Beckwith Avenue home in Spring Hill. Under the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program, the house is also getting ceiling fans, light fixtures, smoke detectors and other needs.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Joey Mahoney, with BJH Construction, rolls paint Thursday at a Beckwith Avenue home in Spring Hill. Under the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program, the house is also getting ceiling fans, light fixtures, smoke detectors and other needs.

BROOKSVILLE — Two nonprofit organizations have been chosen to spend $3 million in federal dollars to provide needed rental housing for up to 70 low-income Hernando families.

The award by the County Commission this week starts the second part of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. Hernando's participation in the NSP has been ahead of others in the state and that has positioned the county to possibly receive millions more in funding, health and human services director Jean Rags said.

To keep that momentum going on the first part of NSP, her office issued a notice Thursday to invite investors to help spend the federal dollars and get more qualified home buyers into foreclosed and short sale homes.

The county was awarded $5.5 million in federal dollars funneled through the state. The NSP was designed to create work for contractors, subcontractors, real estate professionals, title companies and banks while cleaning up neighborhoods that were struggling with the issues related to abandoned, foreclosed homes.

To accomplish this, two different programs were established.

One provided dollars for home buyers earning up to 120 percent of the county's median salary to fix up and purchase foreclosed homes. For months, county officials have navigated through the complex program working with those buyers.

To date, about 200 buyers have applied and approximately 10 of those sales have already closed, Rags said. In addition, another 10 or so have completed pre-closing, 12 homes are out to bid for rehabilitation and 10 more are being rehabilitated now.

"We've really been pushing very hard to try to continue,'' Rags said. "We've had to be very adaptable through this whole process.''

Thursday's notice seeking real estate investors is another example of that. In addition to allowing individuals to apply, pick a house and have it brought up to acceptable standards, the county will now allow investors to buy the available foreclosures.

They would then act as developer to fix up the property and return to the county's list of qualified buyers to complete the transaction. The added help to get the program funds committed by the state and federal deadlines is important, Rags said.

Counties like Hernando that are using the dollars for the program in a timely manner are in line for more money down the road. Hernando has verbally asked for $3 million more but not yet formally applied.

The use of investors is "another tool in our toolbox to expedite the commitment of dollars so that we can have more money from the state,'' Rags said.

Another way to commit the dollars quicker and increase chances of additional funding was to shift some of what had been planned for the first part of NSP to the second part, the portion designed to provide rental housing for low-income residents.

On Tuesday, the County Commission approved dividing $3 million between Jericho Road Ministries and Florida Low Income Housing Inc. Each participant submitted a proposal and a screening committee considered a variety of factors.

In the end, the two nonprofits tied in number of points, and Rags recommended to commissioners that both organizations should be funded. Commissioners agreed.

Because Rags recommended shifting more dollars into the second piece of the NSP, which was originally only going to get $1.3 million, the program will now be able to fund as many as 70 rental units. Previously the county only envisioned 10 units.

Jericho Road Ministries has proposed buying Brook Villas, an old Brooksville apartment complex, renovating it and making it available for rentals. Rags said Jericho Road Ministries is also hoping for some additional funding for the project from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Florida Low Income Housing, based in Citrus County, plans to buy and fix up available foreclosure homes in Spring Hill and possibly Brooksville to use for additional rental units.

Eligibility requirements for the units are based on 50 percent of the median area income, which amounts to an income of $20,730 for a single person, $23,700 for two people and $26,650 for three.

The need is there, said Donald Singer, director of the Hernando County Housing Authority. The federal rental assistance program his office oversees for people with the same income level hasn't added names to its waiting list for several years and has a five-year wait for assistance.

With the current economic situation, Singer predicted that the list would probably be 1,000 names long if they were still adding to it.

Hernando County is under federal contract to provide 285 families with the rental assistance and also provides help to another 135 families from other areas, which is then billed to the correct jurisdictions.

Another help to the situation will be a 60-unit, low income elderly facility that will break ground later this year. The Barnett Road complex is a partnership between the housing authority and a private developer.

Singer said he hopes the programs proposed under the NSP and the authority are successful and can help more of the people in need, "particularly in today's economy when there used to be two people working in some families and now there may just be one or maybe none.''

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

Fast facts

How it started

For more information on the first part of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, visit www.hernandodownpayment.com.

Hernando gives $3 million in grants for low-income rentals 04/16/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 16, 2010 9:12pm]
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