SPRING HILL — The hammering, banging and clanging at the home of Spring Hill resident Curtis A. Niles on Monday was a welcome sound for a bunch of folks.
Not only was Niles getting a long-overdue rehabilitation of his home, but a local builder and his subcontractors had much-needed work and those who have been pushing the rehabilitation program known as HELP were finally seeing just what a help it could be.
HELP, or the Housing Enhancement Loan Program, was pushed by county Commissioner Jeff Stabins last summer when others in the business community were urging the commission to cut impact fees to stimulate the local building community.
Commissioners rejected the impact fee reduction and instead approved moving forward with HELP.
The program uses state housing assistance funds to provide 30-year, no-interest loans to those who meet income requirements. The funds, up to $37,000 per home, do not have to be paid off until the homeowner sells or isn't the primary homeowner anymore.
County commissioners voted last week to approve the contract for the Niles home, awarding the $31,459 job to Zerimar Builders. The commissioners also awarded a $18,565 contract to Palmwood Builders to repair Barbara Coral's home. Palmwood and Zerimar are locally owned businesses, which fits with the aim of the program: to help Hernando builders and contractors as well as residents.
The work began Monday on the Niles home, which will include installation of a new garage door, a new roof and extensive kitchen and bathroom repairs.
Stabins was relieved now that work was finally going to begin. "Hallelujah,'' he said during last week's commission meeting.
He asked Donald Singer, who heads up the county's housing authority, when there might be additional people benefiting from the program. Singer responded that there were several others being screened by his office for eligibility. He added that 10 local contractors had signed up to participate and five contractors each bid on the two jobs approved by the commissioners.
Michael Burmann, who had been Stabins' political opponent in the primary election, has been working with him on the project. He told commissioners last week that the money that is going into the rehabilitation loans had in the past gone primarily for down-payment assistance to first-time homeowners.
But with the housing market slowing and fewer families coming forward seeking the assistance, it was important to get the rehabilitation program up and running so that the funds would still go to a good cause.
"There are a lot of people out there who qualify for this in the times we're at,'' he said.
To try to reach more of those people, the county is holding a special public meeting at 9 a.m. Feb. 2 in the County Commission chambers. Officials will be on hand to discuss how the program works and to answer any questions.
There is about $1.7-million available through the program. The guidelines for qualification based on income are $19,800 for one person, $22,600 for two people, $25,450 for a family of three and $28,220 for a family of four.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.