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Pasco to apply for $15 million federal grant for Lacoochee

DADE CITY — Pasco commissioners reaffirmed their commitment to the impoverished Lacoochee area this week by voting unanimously to apply for a $15 million federal grant to pay for better housing and social services.

The Choice Neighborhoods grant would allow the Pasco County Housing Authority to rebuild two public housing projects in Lacoochee. The county would be required to put up $4 million in matching funds, but it can count the $3.5 million in ongoing road improvements toward the match. The remaining $500,000 would come from other state and federal housing programs.

The Choice Neighborhoods program, administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is the successor of the Hope VI program, which poured millions of dollars into housing agencies to replace crumbling housing projects. Earlier this year the county received a $300,000 Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grant, which put the county in a position to apply for the larger grant.

“Clearly the Lacoochee area is a depressed area with inferior housing,” Chairman Ted Schrader said. “This is an opportunity to get them in more modern facilities, and hopefully it will be an incentive for the residents to be successful and feel like the county is invested in them.”

Dianne Morris, executive director of the Pasco County Housing Authority, said the grant would pay to demolish the existing 39 units in Cypress Villas and replace them with 28, bungalow-style duplexes. The total cost of the project comes to about $10.8 million.

“It’s similar to what we want to do in the new Dade Oaks,” Morris said. “It’s going to be more of a walking community, and the units will be better quality.”

The streets would be rerouted and the utilities replaced. All of the bungalow-style duplexes would surround a park-like courtyard. “This is going to be a brand new community when it gets built,” said Michelle Miller, a community development specialist for the county.

Community Development Director George Romagnoli said the $10.8 million price tag includes several costs and fees the county may end up not needing — such as $100,000 for legal fees, $10,145 for an appraisal, $6,900 for a market study and $365,000 for a construction loan fee and interest.

“We probably won’t end up needing a construction loan,” Romagnoli said. “These are all standard pro forma, so we included them. We don’t want to bid the project and not have enough money, because the one thing we can’t do is go back to HUD and say we need more.”

The grant also would set aside about $2 million for renovations and improvements at Cypress Farms and Cypress Manors public housing complexes. “They’re in bad shape, but unfortunately, they didn’t qualify for replacement under the grant,” Morris said.

The Boys & Girls Club, which will be vacated when the club moves into the new community center at Stanley Park next year, would be converted into an early childhood education center and staffed for three years.

The grant application also includes a funding request to continue paying for the Officer Friendly program in Lacoochee and to pay for two social workers for the area. A third social worker and a parent involvement coordinator would split their time at the elementary, middle and high schools. The grant also requested special training for Lacoochee Elementary teachers on “how to teach children growing up in poverty-stricken families and communities.”

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