DADE CITY — Pasco County commissioners on Tuesday gave approval to a plan to seek millions in federal dollars to replace 39 public housing units in the Lacoochee-Trilby area.
"There's no question that this community could use those funds," Commission Chairman Ted Schrader said. "With all the other development in the area, we certainly cannot forget about our older, established neighborhoods."
Staff will seek about $15.4 million in grants that would be matched with another $4 million locally to knock down and replace the apartments at Cypress Villas I and II and make other changes. If the grant is approved by federal officials, construction could start in about a year and take another 18 months to complete.
The massive project would amount to the largest single investment of public dollars in Lacoochee-Trilby since 2003 when the death of sheriff's Lt. Charles "Bo" Harrison galvanized state and county officials to help the impoverished area.
Four years ago, commissioners established the Lacoochee-Trilby-Trilacoochee Steering Committee to identify solutions to long-standing economic and infrastructure problems.
Then late last year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded a $300,000 grant to map out long-term strategies to help the area.
Also that year, state and private donors contributed more than $1.5 million to construct a community center to be operated by the Boys and Girls Clubs. The center is expected to open next year.
But those investments, along with others over the years, pale in comparison to the funds now being sought by the county.
Cpl. David Hink, a member of the sheriff's Officer Friendly program and chairman of the LTT Steering Community, said the funding is long overdue.
"Our area has basically been neglected," he said. "Those buildings are old and dilapidated. The plumbing breaks down every day."
The bulk of the funds would go toward replacing Cypress Villas I and II, a public housing project built in the early 1970s that consists of several low-rise buildings with multi-family apartments.
The county wants to demolish the apartments and construct 56 units within 28 two-unit buildings designed in a cottage style to emulate a small Old Florida village.
Most of the units would be set aside for tenants receiving public assistance, though 17 would be available to folks earning below the poverty level.
Other grant funds would go toward building an early childhood education center at the Boys and Girls Club and $4 million in renovations to the Cypress Farms and Cypress Manor housing projects. Two social workers would be hired as well. United Way of Pasco County would donate $12,000 for laptops, software and other technology to assist the social workers.
Commissioners on Tuesday also approved a plan to designate the Lacoochee-Trilby area as a tax increment financing area.
County Administrator Michele Baker said the designation won't affect the community initially but eventually could provide millions for roads, sewers and other community projects in Lacoochee-Trilby.
Under the program, property taxes that exceed a base level are returned to the area for public projects, from infrastructure to facade improvements. Baker said this is the first such program targeted for a certain area by the county, though most cities in Pasco maintain such programs.