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City to aid home buying

Lower-income residents in Clearwater soon may get a chance at a slice of the American Dream. The city is working to develop a project that would allow 40 families in the North Greenwood area to own homes, something they may not have been able to achieve otherwise.

The project is twofold, Assistant City Manager Mike Wright told a City Commission work session Monday: Providing affordable homes and sprucing up a struggling neighborhood.

"We want to put home ownership in North Greenwood," he said. "We're willing to guarantee the loans if the banks will give us lower interest rates, and they've agreed to do that."

The city will guarantee the loans with federal grant money it gets for rehabilitating neighborhoods. Those Community Development Block Grants will help residents get loans from participating banks at lower interest rates.

The city already has gotten pledges for loans worth $1.7-million for new homes and home improvements. About $800,000 will be available from the grant money this year and next.

Chris Papandreas, the city's community development manager, explained to commissioners that those people who need housing normally wouldn't qualify for a loan of $40,000 to $50,000.

By participating in this project, she said, the city is making a commitment to North Greenwood residents. "For example, a single mother with two children who may be making $17,000 would be eligible," she said.

In such a case, Neighborhood Housing Services would counsel the woman on how to maintain a home and keep up the payments. After guaranteeing the loan, the city would work with contractors to build her a nice home, including landscaping.

"We don't want to put up a house and just put down some sod," said Planning Director Jim Polatty.

The city also would provide the homeowners with a second mortgage of up to $7,500, which would be reduced by $1,000 each year the homeowner stayed in the home after five years. For example, if the homeowner stayed 12{ years, he would owe nothing on the second mortgage.

"This is not going to be the easiest thing we've ever done," Wright said. "But we think it's worth the work."