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Homeownership key to west Pasco renewal

Pasco County wants to turn renters into homeowners.

It is an admirable goal and the centerpiece of a neighborhood redevelopment plan approved Tuesday by the County Commission. Under the test program, the county identified three west Pasco neighborhoods _ Holiday Hills, Brown Acres and Sunnydale _ for improvements.

A consultant's report listed the problems confronting older neighborhoods built in the 1960s and '70s to attract Northern retirees: small homes now with sagging garage roofs likely not built to code, insufficient parking, front-of-the house clutter, no sidewalks and crumbling streets.

The challenge to the county is to encourage these neighborhoods to age gracefully instead of declining rapidly into suburban slums. Homeownership is a logical way to boost neighborhood investment, maintain a property tax base and ensure that areas don't decay into vacant properties that can become targets for criminal activity or public health concerns.

Statistics from the U.S. Census indicate no shortage of opportunities. Homeownership is increasing countywide, but is in decline in pockets of urbanized west Pasco. Rental properties in Hudson, Holiday and Jasmine Estates totaled 4,927 in the 2000 Census, up 30 percent over 1990 figures.

"Turning renters into buyers is key," said Commissioner Steve Simon.

He is right. Under the new program, the county will make loans with zero percent interest available to encourage home buying. A monthly mortgage obligation smaller than a current rent payment should entice residential participation.

That, too, is key. This is a voluntary effort. The county won't invest unless the neighborhood's residents play an active role.

Next up for the county is a mail survey to the neighborhoods to determine residential concerns and gauge interest in the effort before public meetings begin.

The program doesn't end with the home-buying initiative. But some suggested improvements are expensive and will be more difficult to achieve: Building sidewalks, eliminating power poles and overhead wires, and in one instance building new streets behind the current residences. But some are very doable. The report encourages better use of common property _ in one case cleaning a lake and installing walkways and benches for passive recreation _ and building neighborhood identity via community signs and landscaped entrances.

The commission, particularly Peter Altman, who pushed the idea originally, should be commended for attempting to redevelop west Pasco's older neighborhoods. We encourage residents there to do likewise.