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Hernando seeks federal funds to turn foreclosed homes into affordable housing

BROOKSVILLE — Help could soon be on the way to moderate- and low-income Hernando County families willing to buy foreclosed homes, as well as to low-income families in need of affordable housing.

Realtors, title companies and others involved in real estate transactions, as well as construction workers to fix up foreclosed property, are also expected to get a boost under the Neighborhood Stabilization Program approved by the County Commission on Tuesday.

Commissioners voted to seek $5.6 million in federal funds from the state through the program, part of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008.

Once the county hears it will get the money, the challenge will be to get the program running soon because the county has only through the end of 2009 to commit the funds to the chosen projects.

The dollars will be spent primarily on two projects. The first would help individuals and families with an income up to 120 percent of the median income to fix up and buy foreclosed homes primarily in the Spring Hill area but also in a portion of Brooksville.

The largest portion of the federal allocation, $4.3 million, will go toward that section of the program.

The remaining money will allow the county to provide affordable rental housing for individuals and families with incomes at 50 percent or less than the median.

The county is seeking a consultant to oversee the programs and partners from the community to assist with them.

During Tuesday's meeting, the commission heard from one potential partner, Jericho Road Ministries. Director Bruce Gimbel pitched the commission an idea to use the rental dollars to repair and upgrade the 60 units that make up the now-abandoned Brook Villa Apartments in Brooksville.

Gimbel said the idea would be to bring in an additional $1.8 million to make the project work. He has been working to secure those dollars through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Jean Rags, director of health and human services for the county.

Rags acknowledged that projects that could best leverage federal dollars will get a close look under the plan. "We want a successful project,'' she said.

Bringing in another $1.8 million "could be a lot of leverage,'' said Commissioner John Druzbick.

Commissioner Jim Adkins pushed to make sure that local contractors get a preference as the program begins.

Rags said giving an outright preference was prohibited but that, as much as is legally possible, local businesses would be given a shot at the work.

Commission Chairman Dave Russell asked if Adkins would work with county staff to ensure that, and Adkins said he would.

The idea riled one local resident.

Janey Baldwin said local workers first shouldn't be as important as having quality contractors and subcontractors getting the work.

Adkins responded that he didn't like the implication that there were not quality workers in Hernando County.

"We in Hernando County area are blessed to have some of the best-quality contractors and subcontractors,'' he said.

Rags said she hopes the state agency administering the program will complete a site visit in Hernando by the end of the month and that by early June, funding will arrive to begin the programs.

The commission accepted the proposal by a 4 to 1 vote with Adkins casting the sole no vote.

After the meeting, Adkins said he had reservations about the program. He wanted more assurance that local tradespeople would get some benefit. He also was worried that offering assistance to families to buy foreclosed homes might simply result in more foreclosures in the future.

Adkins also questioned the overall impact of the federal stimulus packages.

"It scares me what kind of legacy I'm going to leave my grandkids who have to pay this off,'' he said.

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

Hernando seeks federal funds to turn foreclosed homes into affordable housing 03/31/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 31, 2009 8:11pm]
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