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Federal grant money will aid housing, job training

Local efforts to restore dilapidated homes and provide job training to disadvantaged youngsters got two big boosts Wednesday from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In Washington, federal officials announced the city of Tampa will receive a $667,000 grant from HUD's HOPE 3 program for first-time home buyers.

And at a City Hall news conference, HUD officials awarded Tampa United Methodist Centers a $973,772 grant to provide job training, education and leadership skills to 40 high-school dropouts.

The federal housing grant announced Wednesday marks the third year in a row Tampa has received the largest or one of the largest grants in the country.

"This program has provided over 500 families with new homes," said Fernando Noriega Jr., the city's director of business and community services. "The program has tremendous impact because what we're doing is putting back into use houses that were vacant or boarded up."

Two years ago, the city was the only community in the nation to win a $4.25-million HOPE 3 grant. Last year, Tampa alone received a $3-million grant.

This year, the city's $667,000 grant is the largest in Florida, although not the largest in the country.

Noriega said the city has been able to compete so well for federal money because of the strong partnerships it has built with local banks and credit unions.

Using the federal money to provide a partial guarantee on repayment of the mortgages, the Mayor's Challenge Fund has enticed local lenders to make home loans to buyers of modest means who otherwise might never have owned a home.

The city plans to use the $667,000 federal housing grant to pry another $2.2-million from local lenders. The city, working with the private, non-profit Tampa United Methodist Centers, will use the money to buy homes foreclosed on by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or the Federal Housing Administration.

"It was supposed to encourage the private sector to be more responsive to partnerships," Noriega said. "With the model that we have in the Mayor's Challenge Fund, I think that the competition we were able to offer was very hard to beat."

Similarly, the Tampa United Methodist Centers plans to double the reach of the job-training grant by matching it with another $935,065 from the city, Hillsborough County School Board, local banks and other firms.

United Methodist Center administrators plan to put the 40 program participants, ages 16 to 24, to work building six houses in east Tampa. The program is meant to provide its participants with a job skill as well as the education they need to earn a high school equivalency certificate.

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