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SELF Program delivers low-income home-improvement loans in Pinellas, Hillsborough

Kathy and Michael Sizemore reaped the benefits of a loan from the non-profit Solar and Energy Loan Fund. Photo courtesy of Solar and Energy Loan Fund.
Published Aug. 13, 2018

Kathy Sizemore, 65, and her husband had just replaced the leaky roof on their two bedroom, two-bathroom home in North St. Petersburg.

A few months later, Hurricane Irma struck, and their refrigerator broke down. Meanwhile, her air conditioner was on its last leg. Between $300 to $400 monthly electric bills and costly visits by the A/C repairman to fix the failing unit, the likelihood of saving up for a down payment for a new system and securing a loan seemed out of reach.

Then in the spring, a flier for the non-profit Solar and Energy Loan Fund, known as SELF, came in her water bill. SELF helps homeowners with low credit scores who are looking for loans to make energy-efficient home improvements, from new air conditioners to hurricane shutters, roofs, solar panels, and even wheelchair access ramps.

She made a call, submitted an application, and qualified for a loan to get a new energy-efficient air conditioner within a matter of weeks. Kathy says her family has already saved hundreds of dollars off their electric bills. Her loan has an 8 percent interest rate and a payment structure she and her husband can afford: $156 per month, with a 5-year repayment plan.

SELF was founded in 2011 by Doug Coward, a former St. Lucie County commissioner who wanted to help community members save on their energy bills, improve the value of their homes and decrease their environmental footprint.

"We're a non-profit," Coward said. "We are not pushing loans on people for the sake of meeting our lender's (expectations). We're sitting down and evaluating their family budget to build a loan around their ability to pay. As a result of that, we're helping people to secure the financing they need."

In June, SELF opened a Tampa office in partnership with Hillsborough County. The county is contributing $300,000 over the next three years to cover the costs of a loan officer to initiate and process the loans.

"People are in desperate need of this kind of help," said Commissioner Pat Kemp, an advocate for bringing the program to Hillsborough County.

SELF pays contractors directly for the work and ensures projects are completed before final payment. Coward said the organization has a developed growing list of reliable contractors prepared to do the work properly.

In November, SELF signed similar agreement with the City of St. Petersburg. In Pinellas, they have issued loans to 29 homeowners totaling $209,846.76. Since it began operating in Hillsborough County, it has issued three loans totaling $ $23,449.29.

"I am blessed that that flyer came in my mailbox that day," Sizemore said.

Contact Alli Knothe at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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