BRIDGET HALL GRUMET
The county hopes helping more people become homeowners in East Brown Acres will raise the tone of the neighborhood.
PORT RICHEY - The roads are crumbling, the kids have nowhere to play and the narrow streets flood when it rains.
But the biggest problem in East Brown Acres might be the homeowners - or rather, the relative lack of them. Only 52 percent of the residents own their homes, compared to 80 percent countywide.
That opens the ailing neighborhood to a parade of renters who sometimes care little about their home or the surroundings.
"There are those (renters who think), "It's not my house, I'm not going to do landscaping, I'm not going to paint it, I'm not going to fix the roof,"' said homeowner Danielle Gomez. "When you have a homeowner, it's like, "Hey, I don't want my house looking like this."'
Now the neighborhood is on its way to getting more of those much-wanted homeowners.
As part of its ambitious redevelopment plan for East Brown Acres, the county plans to buy 11 rental homes from a landlord who is getting out of the business. A nonprofit agency will fix them up and sell them at low interest rates.
The plan to buy the homes for $574,300, using a blend of U.S. Treasury grants and state housing dollars, comes before the County Commission on Tuesday.
"In my opinion, home ownership is the most important thing," said George Romagnoli, the county Community Development manager who is spearheading the redevelopment effort.
"They live in the neighborhood longer. They care about the schools and the roads," he said. "When people care about the neighborhood, there's less crime, they slow down when they drive, they look out for each other."
And the beauty of this 11-home deal: "This is going to be increasing the home ownership in East Brown Acres by 5 percent in this one deal, which is one of the goals we adopted," Romagnoli said.
Of course home ownership is just a piece of the overall redevelopment plan for this 290-home neighborhood, located east of U.S. 19 about a mile south of State Road 52.
A neighborhood cleanup day in May cleared away 29 tons of trash, tires and broken appliances. Sheriff's deputies and code enforcement officers have stepped up their patrols in the area.
The County Commission on Nov. 4 approved a $1.9-million infrastructure plan for the community that features repaved roads, streetlights, a better stormwater drainage system and a small park.
Tampa Bay Community Development Corp., a nonprofit agency working with the county, will repair 11 homes the county plans to buy: 11115, 11119 and 11125 Harding Drive; 7200 and 7203 Seward Drive; 11031 Zimmerman Drive; and 11100, 11111, 11121, 11125 and 11135 Taft Drive.
Romagnoli said most of those rentals are vacant. The tenants in the remaining ones will have the option to buy the home, he said.
The homes will be available to families earning less than 120 percent of the median income. For a family of four, the cutoff would be $60,000.
A bank would provide a low-interest mortgage for half of the home's cost; the county would cover the other half of the mortgage with a zero-interest loan, and with no payments for the first five years.
Earlier this year, the county bought three other East Brown Acres homes from the same landlords, Timothy and Alma Robinette. Romagnoli said the couple approached him at a tax auction a few months ago and said, "If you have a deal, we would be willing to sell all the properties."
Gomez said she is thrilled to get some new neighbors who will put down roots in the community.
"It brings a bonding to a neighborhood as a whole when you talk to neighbors, get to know your neighbors and look out for your neighbors," she 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 firstname.lastname@example.org