Take an eastbound drive on State Road 54 from its intersection at U.S. 19 and you'll see a typical mixed bag of development that predates county zoning laws.
Modest single-family homes are near redeveloped storefronts. There are some forlorn-looking businesses, a psychic's shop, a tavern, an empty lot that had been proposed as the site of a Walmart Supercenter and a nearby strip club. North and south of the highway sits plenty of residential property that could use a spruce up as well, and it is these neighborhoods that have the attention of Pasco County.
Dubbed the Greater Elfers area, after the incorporated community that existed there for eight years ending in 1933, the neighborhoods are targeted for an influx of more than $4.5 million in federal money to rehabilitate up to 70 homes and to demolish others too dilapidated to save.
It is a welcome and worthwhile investment in one of Pasco's oldest west-side communities that sits east of U.S. 19 between Holiday and the city of New Port Richey. The once-senior dominated area is in relatively close proximity to Pinellas County, which helped attract a working class population pushed out by higher housing costs to the south. Sixty percent of the residents are considered low income.
The neighborhoods offer a mix of housing stock from mobile home communities to the modest, unadorned concrete-block construction of the 1960s. Neatly manicured homes with fresh paint sit close to houses with boarded windows.
The potential for more wood planks replacing glass panes is great. More than 150 homes have been vacant for at least 90 days and there have been 204 foreclosure cases started in the past year. All told, there are 3,551 houses in the Elfers area and 20 percent of those with outstanding mortgages are delinquent or in foreclosure.
The county strategy is to try to stem the vacancy rate by buying property, fixing up the homes and then reselling them to people participating in Pasco's program for first-time home buyers. Boosting home ownership is a key factor to encouraging personal investment and to stabilize unsettled areas.
It is a formula used elsewhere as the government works to preserve an aging housing stock from falling into disrepair with empty houses that can become public health nuisances and attract criminal behavior.
Trying to save one of west Pasco's oldest communities from becoming the newest eyesore is a laudable goal.