Public Apartments Provide Hope for Home Ownership

Kenya Young wants nothing more than to own a home for her family. Until then, she just needs a little help to reach her dream.

That’s how a new home incubation program is providing hope for residents like Young while improving a neighborhood threatened with blight.

The City of Leesburg and Lake County Housing Services joined together to purchase and renovate a group of 12 foreclosed apartments at Simmons and Mispah avenues in the Carver Heights area of Leesburg.

The property was converted into updated rentals. But unlike other public housing, all tenants will receive special financial and educational guidance to build their lives and to guide them toward owning their own homes.

“I am really happy,” said Young, 35, whose four children range from 14 to 18 years old. “A lot of people do not know that there are programs like this to help.”

A ribbon cutting for the apartment complex will be at 3 p.m. Monday, July 28, at 2213 Simmons Ave. City and county officials will attend. The Leesburg City Commission will vote on procedures for apartment operations and rentals at 5:30 p.m. July 28 at City Hall, 501 W. Meadow St. in Leesburg.

“I think this project shows the versatility of the city and county to take care of residents while maintaining and stabilizing a neighborhood that has been plagued with declining conditions,” said Leesburg Mayor John Christian.

The apartments, which were purchased after foreclosure for $96,000, had been operated with little or no management. The living conditions were so bad that ceilings had collapsed, mold grew on the walls and some of the residents lived each day in badly impoverished conditions.

The City of Leesburg and Lake County split the $450,000 cost of renovations, fixing ceilings and walls, repairing plumbing and electrical wiring and installing new appliances, cabinets and air conditioning systems. Six two-bedroom units and six three-bedroom units were completely cleaned and extensively updated.

A long list of potential apartment tenants is being assembled from people who qualify for help through Lake County Housing Services. The county will provide rent payment assistance through a voucher program funded from federal sources.

Lake County currently provides public services to more than 500 clients ranging from housing payment subsidies to emergency and medical-need building repairs and additions, demolitions and renovation assistance.

Lake County Housing Services Manager Cheryl Howell said the apartment project in Leesburg has multiple benefits: “We want to improve quality of living – to increase access to better living [services]. We also want to improve the conditions in a mid- to low-income neighborhood.”

Aside from offering affordable housing, the new apartments provide a well-managed and aesthetically pleasing property to improve the look of the area, to help reduce crime and to restore some pride in a neighborhood that otherwise could continue to decline.

“It is a great example of identifying a need in a community and partnering with the city and the private sector to provide new opportunities,” said Lake County Commissioner Tim Sullivan.

Leesburg is a progressive city of more than 20,000 residents in northwest Lake County. The city government serves twice as many people with its electric, gas, water, wastewater and fiber-optic public utilities. Leesburg also is a central hub for commerce, attracting 50,000 people to work each weekday. For more information, visit www.leesburgflorida.gov.