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Hernando housing assistance program will focus on foreclosure-heavy ZIP codes

BROOKSVILLE — With home prices plummeting and plenty of houses available, it would seem like the ideal buyer's market.

But for families that cannot afford to fix up a foreclosed home, don't have money for a down payment or are not needy enough to qualify for assistance, a home may still be out of reach.

A program to help is just around the corner.

Hernando officials are putting together a plan that would help move people into foreclosed homes in Spring Hill.

The program is an outgrowth of the federal Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. Essentially, federal money is being routed through the state to assist communities in stabilizing neighborhoods most affected by the financial downturn.

With criteria that focus on neighborhoods with the greatest number of foreclosures, the highest percentage of sub-prime mortgages and the highest potential for future foreclosures, Hernando County ranks high on the list for communities in need.

The focus is on Spring Hill neighborhoods in the 34606, 34608 and 34609 ZIP codes.

County officials expect to receive $4.3 million to acquire and improve foreclosed and abandoned properties that would then be purchased by people whose income is less than 120 percent of the median for the area. For a family of four, that ceiling would be an annual income of $67,800. For an individual, it would be $47,540.

An additional $1.34 million is available for the county to provide rental housing to people whose income is less than 50 percent of the area mean income. A family of four would qualify if their income was less than $28,250. An individual could apply if his or her income was less than $19,800 annually.

Hernando County's plan is to hire a consultant to oversee both aspects of the grant program, allowing more involvement by private-sector interests; the county would simply oversee and be the bank providing the funding, said Jean Rags, director of health and human services.

"We are not going to be directly involved in the acquisition of the houses," Rags said.

County commissioners who heard Rags' report last week voiced gratitude that the program was designed so the private sector could participate.

She said she expects the request for proposals to be advertised in the next week and the County Commission will make a decision on the consultant April 14.

Rags predicted that the county may be able to help 100 or more families acquire foreclosed homes through the program. The plan is to set aside no more than $40,000 per home. That money would pay the cost of fees to the private sector appraisers and other real estate professionals, bankers to help qualify buyers, and contractors to fix up the homes. A portion can also go toward down-payment assistance.

Rags doesn't doubt the need for the program. In speaking with a mortgage broker recently, she said she learned there are many people anxious to buy who have loan approval but cannot make the down payment.

For the low-income rental portion of the grant, the federal money is to be used to buy foreclosed homes, apartments, duplexes and triplexes with an experienced nonprofit organization serving as owner and manager of the units. A benefit of having a nonprofit involved is that many offer social services needed by the low-income tenants, Rags said.

A citizens advisory task force meeting to discuss the county's application for the funding is slated for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in the County Commission chambers of the Hernando County Government Center. The session is open to the public.

A public hearing on the plan is slated for March 10 before the County Commission, and a special commission meeting is set for 9 a.m. March 31 to approve the plan and related documents.

Rags expects that work will begin quickly because the program requires that all funds be spent or committed within 10 months of the state and federal agencies signing off on the details, which is expected sometime in March.

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

FAST FACTS

What's next

A citizens advisory task force will meet at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the county's application for federal Housing and Economic Recovery Act funding. The meeting, which is open to the public, will be in the County Commission chambers at the Hernando County Government Center, 20 N Main St., Brooksville. A public hearing on the county's plan for the money will be during the County Commission's March 10 meeting. A special commission meeting is set for 9 a.m. March 31 to approve the plan and related documents.

Hernando housing assistance program will focus on foreclosure-heavy ZIP codes 03/02/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 2, 2009 8:49pm]
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