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House into a home

House into a home

By Stella M. Chßvez
Staff Writer

October 22, 2001

BOYNTON BEACH + As a single parent and teacher living on a moderate income, Mike Marzelli couldn't afford most new homes on the market today.

But with the help of an affordable housing program, Marzelli's dream of owning a house came true three months ago.

"It saved me a great deal of money," Marzelli said. "They helped me lower my monthly payments and made me attend a seminar on home buying, which I thought was going to be a huge waste of time. But it turned out to be very informative."

Marzelli's not alone. Since the city's State Housing Initiative Partnership Program began in 1997, Boynton Beach has seen the number of first time home buyer like Marzelli increase beyond expectation, officials say.

As one of the program's requirements, the city must send the state a three-year plan, which gives projections for the number of first-time homebuyers and the number of homes that could be repaired. In the 2000-2003 plan, program officials anticipated helping eight first-time home buyers and rehabilitating 14 homes. But since the beginning of the 2000 fiscal year, the program has helped 23 first-time homeowners and repaired 22 homes. Program officials also have estimated they will be able to help an additional 13 first-time home buyers and fix-up 15 existing homes in the coming months.

Since the program's inception in 1997, a total of 58 people have bought new homes while a total of 42 homes have been repaired.

Octavia Sherrod, the city's community development director, said the numbers speak for themselves. Part of the program's success is a result of the state increasing the annual amount it awards to cities, she said. Also, the city now has a person, Brenda Cornelius, solely dedicated to administering the affordable housing program.

"It's really progressing," Sherrod said. "When we initially started out, I was the SHIP administrator and I did the [Community Development Block Grant] program as well, so it was kind of difficult."

For the current budget year, the state has allocated about $127 million in SHIP funds. The amount is distributed among cities according to population with each county receiving at least $350,000, according to state officials.

The money each city receives pays for a variety of expenses, including emergency repairs, new construction, rehabilitation, down payment and closing cost assistance, buying property and home ownership counseling programs. For fiscal year 2000-2001, the state gave Boynton Beach $605,134 -- more than double the amount it got during the first year of the program.

Sherrod said people who are eligible for the program fall into three categories: very low income, low income and moderate income.



Applicants are required to take a home ownership class that teaches everything from tips on paying a mortgage to the structural details of a house.

Experts such as Jamie Ross, interim executive director of the Tallahassee-based advocacy group Florida Housing Coalition, say such classes help ensure the program's success. Some municipalities have added credit-repair programs that work with families for a few years before they actually buy a new house.

"The catalyst has been the SHIP program," Ross said.

But the need to help poor or limited-income families remains greater than ever.

"The need is not being met," said Nancy Muller, housing policy coordinator for the Florida Housing Finance Corporation. "Right now, we know that there are a high number of Floridians who have problems being able to pay for their housing each month."

Stella M. Chßvez can be reached at schavez@sun-sentinel.com or 561-243-6602.

Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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