Last year, the Hernando County Commission created the Housing Enhancement Loan Program (HELP) which earmarked $1.8 million in SHIP funds to loan very low income residents up to $37,500, at no interest for 30 years to rehabilitate their broken down homes. Dozens of residents have benefited and some of our local contractors have been able to go back to work. Approximately $200,000 remains.
This year, instead of rehabbing homes, a new program, More HELP, if approved, will put out for bid the demolition of terribly dilapidated home belonging to low income residents who qualify. They will receive up to a $75,000 loan at the same terms as above and will receive the construction of a brand new home on their existing lot. We will start with the $200,000 from SHIP and hopefully add some of the $300,000 from the down payment assistance loan program that has not been loaned, or if it has, will be repaid into that program next year. Additional funds could come from CDBG, HUD, stimulus funds, or the county's own reserves.
We may hire a person, or persons (what I refer to as a go-getter, or go-getters) on a strictly commission basis to use the property appraiser's records, or any other legal sources, to find possibly qualifying homes and interested owners for the program. If the homeowner also qualifies for an additional private mortgage, the go-getter will coordinate with private lenders for a mortgage, or home equity loan.
This proposal is a win-win for the residents of Hernando County. The low-income homeowner moves from a shack into a beautiful new home on his/her site. The neighborhood is improved, helping stabilize the values of nearby properties. No new inventory is added to the glut that has riled Realtors and forced values of all homes to drop precipitously.'
Builders get what they should really want — the ability to build new homes, from basic starters to the average new home currently being constructed. All the taxpayers benefit because their future infrastructure accounts are not raided by at least $1 million, and possibly much more, by reducing, or eliminating residential impact fees. Local lenders will benefit by making loans on new homes that have 50 percent, or much more, equity already invested in the new home, backed by the government.
The county general fund and the school system benefit with the possible addition of ad valorem revenue from homes that are currently providing little, or none. And, the unemployment numbers drop as builders and their subcontractors go back to work along with the go-getters.
We have already collected over $1.5 million in impact fees this year alone in the worst housing slump since the Great Depression. New homes on vacant lots will put additional stress on our roads, schools, police officers, firemen, parks, libraries, etc. We should not compound the problem by having the 95 percent of all taxpayers who will never build a new home subsidize those who choose to build one in the next year.
The county commission should consider creating More HELP and funding it from any sources available as an alternative to reducing, or worse, eliminating impact fees entirely. This program is an investment in the future of Hernando County.
Jeff Stabins is Hernando County commissioner for District 1.