Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Housing Grants Give Families a Head Start; the Road to Home Ownership Is Easier with Money from the City

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Housing Grants Give Families a Head Start; the Road to Home Ownership Is Easier with Money from the City

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID HUNT

It was one year ago almost to the day that the Lugos arrived in the Westside.

The move followed months of house-hunting heartburn for Ricardo and Caridad, who are raising three kids on a $33,000 income. They dreamed of a yard, a neighborhood and getting out of a rental in Riverside where someone broke in and stole from them.

Had it not been for a $15,000 grant from Jacksonville's Housing and Neighborhoods department, Ricardo Lugo said the search might still be going on. They are one of hundreds of success stories through the Head Start to Home Ownership program, which is likely to get a major boost next year.

Wight Greger, the department's director, said she's expecting to put an additional $1 million toward the program, raising its budget to $2.4 million. The money is used to help low-income people buy houses.

State and federal grants are expected to fill out the Head Start line item when Greger's departmental budget is approved by the City Council in the coming months. The money comes at a great time in a city where foreclosures have plagued the working poor.

In the first quarter of this year, Jacksonville ranked 27th nationally in the number of foreclosure filings, according to data by the online real estate marketplace RealtyTrac. The organization released data on Friday that ranked Florida number four nationally for foreclosures. Statewide, the foreclosure rate jumped 72 percent between May 2007 and May 2008.

Programs like Head Start to Home Ownership are combating that trend.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, said a sluggish economy has helped reduce housing prices, but many still need help. The grants, he said, help stimulate the economy by rebuilding neighborhoods.

"The whole concept is people owning part of America. They feel engaged. It fundamentally changes mind-set and the homeowner says, 'I am part of the community,'" Yun said.

Getting there can be tough.

Ricardo Lugo said he had to fire two real estate agents: one blew off meetings. and the other kept showing homes out of their price range.

Just when he and his wife thought they had found a gem near the Arlington Expressway, they realized just before signing bank paperwork that they weren't getting their own driveway and street parking was scarce, killing the deal. …

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