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BUYERS GIVEN A FIGHTING CHANCE

Largo's Homestead Program helps out lower-income buyers with a discount and deferred payments.

Debbie Hall is starting over after a divorce and is looking for a home where she can live with her daughter and two grandsons.

Eddie DiSilvestro is tired of putting his hard-earned money toward rent and wants to settle down with his fiancee and 2-year-old son.

They're two of just a handful of people who stopped by City Hall last week to check out two homes for sale through Largo's Homestead Program.

The program, started about 18 years ago, gives lower-income families a chance to buy homes they might otherwise not be able to afford.

At the open house on Sept. 2, the city's housing staff answered questions and showcased pictures and details about the homes.

One home, appraised at $80,000, is a three-bedroom house at 2812 Adrian Ave.

Before the city owned the home, Largo provided down-payment assistance for a family to buy it. Largo bought the property after the first mortgage holder foreclosed on the property, said Matthew Anderson, city housing manager.

Since then, the home has been sold through the city's Homestead Program at least twice. Buyers who participate in the program must agree to stay in the homes for at least five years.

If they move out before the end of the period, the city gets possession of the houses again. That's what happened with the house on Adrian.

The other home, appraised at $190,000, is a four-bedroom historic home at 161 Fifth St. NW, known as the Jason Perkins house.

The city bought that property in 2007 as part of its plan to redevelop the north side of W Bay Drive.

Built by Perkins, one of Largo's early town managers, the house was slated for demolition. Instead, officials decided to rehabilitate it, move it a block north and sell it through the city's Homestead Program.

Last week, just four potential applicants stopped by the city's open house.

The event followed a busy week of inquiries. About 20 people called to ask about the program and about 10 or 15 stopped by City Hall to find out about the homes, said Lindsay Dicus, the city's housing finance specialist.

Members of the city's housing department want to get the word out about the program because it slashes some of the major costs, especially the initial ones, involved in buying a home.

Here's how it works.

First, the city cuts 10 percent off the purchase price. And that amount is forgiven if the homeowner stays in the house for five years.

The buyer applies for a first mortgage. He or she must qualify for the mortgage, which must be at least $50,000. Payments are set at an affordable rate, less than 30 percent of the buyer's gross monthly income.

Then, the city provides a no-interest second mortgage for the rest of the purchase price. That mortgage is deferred for 20 years. And at that time, the city may again defer all or part of the mortgage, depending on the buyer's circumstances, Dicus said.

If the buyer moves, the city's loan is paid back when the property is sold. The city generally receives proceeds from several of those sales each year, Anderson said.

It works out for the city either way, he said.

"If they stay there a long time, it stabilizes the community," Anderson said.

Buyers must meet certain criteria to qualify.

They can't have owned a home within three years. And their household income must be between $15,000 and 80 percent of the area median income. For a family of four, the maximum would be $47,350.

Hall, 52, lives in a room in her brother's house and had been planning to move to Georgia because she thought it would be easier to afford a decent home there. But she can't bear the thought of leaving her daughter and two grandsons and checked out Largo's program because she hopes to find a home nearby.

DiSilvestro, a warehouse manager for a home improvement and furniture club, now rents a house in St. Petersburg. But he's ready to buy a house and plans to apply for the city's program.

"I don't really want to pay someone else's mortgage. Plus, I want a piece of the American dream," said DiSilvestro, 31.

People interested in buying homes through the program must fill out an application, receive preliminary approval from the city and provide an approval letter from a lender by Sept. 25.

The city will give priority to larger families and ones whose income is the lowest.

"We're trying to help the neediest of the needy," Anderson said.

Largo's Homestead Program homes

2812 Adrian Ave.

Appraisal: $80,000

Year built: 1955

Square feet: 1,466

Bedrooms: 3

Baths: 2

Other features: Hardwood floors, separate laundry room

161 Fifth St. NW

Appraisal: $190,000

Year built: 1926

Square feet: 2,270

Bedrooms: 4

Baths: 2

Other features: Formal dining room, large back yard

For information, call Lindsay Dicus at (727) 586-7489, ext. 7314.

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