LAKE WORTH

New homes are improving the look of streets in the city’s urban core as the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency and its nonprofit partners make a final push to meet a mid-February deadline for spending $23.2 million in federal grant money.

With less than two months remaining, the CRA and its partners in the Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant have spent $17.8 million, meaning they’ll need to spend another $5.4 million to meet the Feb. 11 deadline.

With another $5.8 million obligated but not technically spent, the grant partners are expected to meet the spending deadline, said Mike McManaman, grant program administrator for the CRA.

“I don’t expect us to lose one dollar,” McManaman said.

Purchases so far include enough abandoned and foreclosed properties to produce 97 dwellings — including 51 single-family homes, nine townhomes, one condo, 12 urban art lofts (townhomes that will be sold to artists at F Street and Lucerne Avenue), nine duplexes (18 dwelling units) and one small apartment complex containing six units.

Another 11 properties will be set aside in a land bank for development within the next 10 years. The CRA also is considering plans to build apartments on a 1.8-acre tract at Sixth Avenue South and F Street that was bought with federal grant money.

So far, 25 homes have been built, sold and delivered to owners. Many were built by Habitat for Humanity, which uses home-buyer and volunteer labor to reduce construction costs.

Volunteers and paid crews are working on another 15 Habitat homes in Lake Worth that are expected to be complete by Jan. 31. They include five, two-story homes on a lot at D Street north of Third Avenue North.

Another grant partner, Adopt-A-Family of the Palm Beaches, expects to complete 41 dwellings by the Feb. 11 deadline, including 24 rental units and 17 homes. Nine of the Adopt-A-Family homes have been sold.

“It’s great to see these new homes with their families moving into our neighborhood,” said Robert Elliott, president of the Tropical Ridge Neighborhood Association. “The pride we can and should have is starting to spread.”

Real estate experts are beginning to see home prices rise in the city’s urban core between A Street and Dixie Highway.

The median sales price for homes in the area increased 13 percent during the past three months, to $50,000, said Steve Schmidt, manager of residential appraisal for the West Palm Beach office of Boyd, Schmidt and Brannum. The average number of days listed properties in the city’s urban core stay on the market has fallen from 104 at the beginning of this year to 85 during the past three months.

But it’s too early to tell whether the uptick in sales prices is related to the dwellings built and refurbished with the federal NSP grant money, said David Chapin, a North Palm Beach real estate appraiser.

“Whenever you put up new homes, it’s going to have a positive effect,” Chapin said. “But you can’t directly attribute increases in values to NSP homes.”

North D Street resident Charles O’Hearn believes new homes built through the federal grant program will eventually improve the value of his home. He can see a new Habitat home diagonally across the street from his house.

But O’Hearn noted that much remains to be done to improve the appeal of his neighborhood, where many small, older homes are used as rental properties. Another house across from O’Hearn’s is abandoned and sagging, a vacancy notice posted on its front door.

Besides improving neighborhoods, the grant-financed homes are providing affordable housing to people who used to be renters.

The Habitat homes are being sold at appraised value to owners who contribute at least 500 hours of “sweat equity” and buy them through Habitat with zero-interest mortgages.

The average sales price for the new Lake Worth homes is about $75,00o, said Bernie Godek, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Palm Beach County. The average mortgage payment for buyers of the Lake Worth homes, including taxes and insurance, is $450 a month — less than what many were paying in rent, Godek said.

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