Dozers, backhoes and dump trucks are clearing what was once a 79-acre citrus field at 14th Avenue Southeast and Sixth Street Southeast.
The site work is under way to make room for 300 new homes to be built by the Florida Home Partnership over the next eight years.
The nonprofit group helps folks of limited means become first-time homebuyers. People who have not owned a home in the past three years prior are eligible for the government-funded program.
"Our job is to provide quality affordable housing and promote sustainable living for our homeowners," said Eileen Burke, special projects coordinator.
The partnership's current project, Bayou Pass Phase IV and V, will be funded by more than $4 million in grants from the United States Department of Agriculture and United States Housing and Urban Development Department's Homeownership Opportunity Program. The grants will cover administration of the project and offset construction costs.
Hillsborough County is providing an additional $800,000 to expand 14th Avenue Southeast to three lanes between Sixth Street Southeast and 12th Street. Curbs and gutters will be added.
The partnership plans to build sidewalks within and around the subdivision and add a pedestrian trail along 14th Avenue Southeast. The community will have a neighborhood center, large swimming pool, basketball court and playground. Twenty-five to 30 acres of the entire site will feature water areas.
Homes will have three to five bedrooms and vary in size from 1,160 to 1,599 square feet. All will be built on 50-by-100-foot lots, which are sold at cost and included in the loan package.
The homes will be environmentally friendly, with features such as low-flow toilets and faucets; absence of outdoor irrigation; Florida-friendly landscaping; compact fluorescent lighting; and green-certified insulation and building materials.
Currently the USDA loans carry a 3.25 percent interest rate for 33 years. To qualify, an applicant's income cannot exceed 80 percent of the federal median income level. For example, a family of four living in this area could not make more than $45,200, or a single earner more than $31,650. Loans are approved for anyone who meets the income and employment criteria and has a reparable credit record.
"Those who qualify agree to provide a minimum of 600 hours of 'sweat equity,' where they work in groups under the supervision of a construction coordinator to provide semiskilled and unskilled labor as part of their contracts," said Executive Director Earl Pfeiffer. Skilled tradesmen are hired for major work such as framing, roofing, foundation work, wiring and plumbing.
Having the home buyers invest time and effort reduces the overall cost of the home by providing services that normally would require outside help, like a painter. In return they are not required to make a down payment on their homes and they receive 100 percent financing.
"Lenders always like to see buyers have skin in the game," Pfeiffer said.
Burke, a single mother, was among the first group of people to enroll in the program in 1998, when the partnership built Bayou Pass Phase I. Like many of her partnership co-workers, she became employed with the nonprofit group after going through the program.
"In one way or another I was involved in just about every aspect of building my home," Burke said. "I also helped my neighbors with their homes. Being so involved gave us a tremendous sense of pride and helped create a strong a sense of community."
Eleven of 17 employees at the partnership are Bayou Pass homeowners, as are a third of the members on its board of directors.
"This is truly a program administered by those it serves," Pfeiffer said. "There is a tremendous pride in ownership. People move into our communities for the long term."
Florida Home Partnership was founded in 1993. Since then it has built more than 550 homes in Hillsborough and Pasco counties.
For additional information, call (813) 672-7899 or visit www.flhome.org.