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Grants boost affordable housing, jobs, local economy

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Grants of more than $4 million soon will be applied in a popular affordable housing program

By MELODY JAMESON

RUSKIN – Grants of more than $4 million soon will be applied in a popular affordable housing program here, producing new homes on easy terms for first-time buyers, plus continuing jobs for area craftsmen, plus pumping an estimated $6.5 million into the local economy.

The two grants are coming from federal agencies and together total $4,055,000, according to Earl Pfeiffer, executive director of Florida Home Partnership (FHP), a locally-based, not-for profit residential developer. The larger of the two, a $2,045,000 grant, has been committed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) through its rural housing assistance arm and another $2,010,000 by the Self-help Homeownership Opportunity Program within the Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD), Pfeiffer said.

The monies will help underwrite two more phases of the Bayou Pass Villages development along 14th Avenue S.E. for which ground has been broken. Bayou Pass I and II, built and occupied several years ago, are located on the south and north sides of 14th Avenue respectively, immediately west of 24th Street S.E. The third village in the series with 166 lots was carved out and now is close to build out on the north side of 14th, at 21st Street S.E.

Two new neighborhoods will be constructed in the southeast corner of the 14th and 6th Street S.E. intersection, beginning with 158 homesites in Phase IV, the director noted. Initial clearing of that 80-acre block currently is underway and the property is expected to contain eventually some 300 homes built with the sweat equity of their new owners.

Designed for buyers who, for any number of reasons, have been unable to purchase a home in the open market, FHP’s affordable housing program offers potential first-time homeowners the opportunity t o join with several other families in helping to build a group of their homes, all at the same time, Pfeiffer explained. A first-time buyer is defined as one that has not owned a home during the three years prior to making application with FHP, he added.

The process begins when interested parties obtain an information package outlining details of the program and then make application. After verifications of basic information such as income and employment, interviews are scheduled and loan paperwork completed. The mortgage loans are approved and backed by USDA.

At the present time, the fixed interest rate on the program’s approved USDA loans is 3.25 percent for 33 years, the FHP director said.

Following loan approvals, a group of maybe six to 10 will begin working on their homes together. While some of the basic construction is handled by professional block masons and carpenters, plumbers and electricians, drywallers and roofers, some of the labor and the various skills needed to complete construction of a house can be supplied by the new homeowners in keeping with their individual abilities. Because the group works on all of their dwellings, individual capabilities can be efficiently utilized, Pfeiffer noted, adding that a single mother, for example, may not be able to apply stucco but she may be a good painter and therefore can help with painting other members’ houses in addition to her own. It is expected that each homeowner will contribute 600 hours of work over a six-month period.

The concept, he pointed out, is an updated version of the barn raisings commonly undertaken by several families in rural American communities a century ago; “a neighbor helping neighbor” system to accomplish together what one alone cannot. Such an approach is a natural for a governmental agency focused on agriculture, Pfeiffer suggested.

Although the first Bayou Pass village includes a few two-story homes, all plans chosen by new home buyers in recent years have been one-story versions, Pfeiffer said. Floor plans include three, four or five bedrooms in spaces ranging from 1160 to just under 1600 square feet. Each home is concrete block, built to energy rating standards and according to Florida’s certified “green” code, he added.

The homes and their lots in Bayou Pass IV, when they begin to appear in 2013, will be valued in the $130,000 to $140,000 range, the executive said. And about $7,000 per house was shaved off the cost, he added, because the acreage was acquired from a bank for just $1.49 million when the former lender foreclosed after the previous owner defaulted on a loan.

FHP is able to wrap up sales of about 50 homes each year, Pfeiffer said, adding that he “could do many more if I could get them closed sooner.” About 60 applicants currently are “in the pipeline,” he said.

At that sales rate, the affordable home operation as a whole puts an estimated $6.5 million into the South County economy, Pfeiffer asserted. From the craftsmen engaged to help build the houses to the suppliers of everything from lumber and blocks to tile and landscaping plants to all of the small and large business employees who manage or sell or deliver the goods, the original investment dollars are multiplied and circulated in widening circles. Plus, he added, ultimately each new home is another addition to the county tax base.

“There’s a lot of stuff involved” in implementing the FHP mission, Pfeiffer summed up, but that won’t be the priority topic on Saturday, June 23, when the developer holds its day-long 2012 Home Ownership Month Event (HOME), across from the Bayou Pass III swimming pool under the village’s iconic clock tower.

The day will begin with a playground build, getting underway at about 7:30 AM as volunteers assemble for the project, said Joey Henderson, FHP spokesperson. Other aspects of the event include an open house in a furnished model home, live radio broadcasts from the village by WFLZ 93.3 personnel, and lunch by Sonny’s Barbecue.

Following lunch, the annual Dorothy Duke Community Service Award will be presented, named in honor of the late Mrs. Duke who single-handedly established foundation for the South County’s first affordable housing project. The award recipient is not notified in advance and will not be known until the moment announced, Pfeiffer said.

At this time, checks reflecting the two large federal agency grants also are to be turned over to FHP by USDA and HUD representatives. Among the invited officials are Bill Nelson, Florida’s senior U.S. Senator, Kathy Castor, U.S. Representative for the greater Tampa area, and Sandy Murman, county commissioner representing the first district which covers Ruskin.

Florida Home Partnership, founded in 1993 and observing its 20-year anniversary in 2013, is overseen by a 15-member board of directors, a third of them community residents who purchased their homes through the program. Similarly, half of the 17 employees who keep FHP humming day to day also are homeowners in Bayou Pass neighborhoods, Pfeiffer said.

The developer has facilitated 550 houses for affordable home buyers in several Hillsborough single family and townhome subdivisions as well as a project in Pasco County since the earliest community was completed. Five local, state and national entities partner with the developer, including Hillsborough County, the State of Florida, USDA, the Federal Home Loan Bank and the Housing Assistance Council on behalf of HUD.

FHP’s website address is www.flhome.org and additional information can be requested or volunteer registration made by calling 813-672-7889.

Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson

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