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Can't scrape up a down payment?

(ran North, South editions)

George Romagnoli is having the hardest time handing out $3.5-million.

The money is just sitting in the bank. But people have to apply for it.

The state housing dollars are earmarked to help lower-income families buy homes, said Romagnoli, the county's Community Development manager. Residents who meet the income requirements can get thousands of dollars for a down payment or other home buying costs.

A family of four that makes less than $61,440, for example, can qualify for $10,000 toward an existing home or $14,000 toward a new one.

There is a catch: The money isn't free. It's a loan.

"But it's a zero percent loan," Romagnoli said. And the extra bucks could make a big difference for a family trying to close on a house, he said.

Even with 250 families applying for some of the money last year, Romagnoli has $3.5-million left over. He thinks some families aren't even trying because they don't think they can afford a home in today's high-priced market.

Consider this fact: Among the Pasco families receiving the state housing dollars in 1993, the average home price was $49,183. By 2004, the average home price for those families was $88,189, Romagnoli said.

That's an 80 percent increase in a decade.

"The salaries are not increasing as fast as the homes are," Romagnoli said.

So he's looking to dish out even more money.

Romagnoli plans to ask the County Commission on Tuesday to increase the loans, in some cases nearly doubling the amount families could receive. Under the proposal, a family of four making just under $61,440 would qualify for $21,000 toward an existing house or $25,000 for a new one.

The size of the loans varies according to income, family size and the type of house being bought.

Romagnoli figures he can help more families by giving out larger loans. And with $3.5-million in the bank, he's got plenty of money to work with.

"We're going to have to increase the subsidies so people can get into the homes," he said.

Bridget Hall Grumet covers Pasco County government. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is


Call the Pasco County Community Development Division and ask about the Home Buyer Assistance Program. The numbers are (727) 834-3445 in west Pasco, (813) 996-7341, ext. 3445, in central Pasco and (352) 521-4274, ext. 3445, in east Pasco.