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The Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation Wants to Save More Old Homes

With all the new high rises and sprawling mansions replacing older, humbler abodes throughout Sarasota, it might be tempting to sell a home in need of repair to a cash-buying investor. But a new historic loan program aims to intercept that scenario by giving homeowners another option.

The Sarasota Alliance for Historic Preservation (SAHP) has launched the program, the area’s first, which provides low-cost loans for home repairs and restoration, along with hands-on homeowner support to manage the work and ensure preservation standards.

The goal is to protect against the Sarasota region’s rapid loss of historic buildings, “keep people in their homes, and keep them in good condition,” says SAHP program director Erin DiFazio. “Part of the reason people feel they have to sell when a cash offer comes along is to get away from having to commit to costly repairs that may be looming.”

The loans focus on external projects like roof repair and replacement, structural remediation, exterior painting and sealing and window repair and replacement. To be eligible, the house must be at least 50 years old; it need not be historically designated. The loan program is part of a suite of tools, including preservation easements, that have never been deployed in the region.

“It’s a successful model across the country that has helped to turn around areas where not everyone can compete for bank loans if they don’t make a lot of money,” DiFazio, who is also an area realtor and restoration designer, says. “We don’t have an income limit and we’re letting people self-define whether they need the loan.”

“Flexible underwriting makes loan funds available to those who don’t qualify for traditional bank lending, including retirees and people with lower incomes,” she continues.

The cap for one singular project is $30,000, with a fixed 6 percent interest rate, but not every applicant will need to borrow that much. Repayment will be based on a sliding scale and have an eight-year term, but can be extended. “The goal is that when we get enough of the money back, we can give it out to another person,” DiFazio says. Payments don’t start until the work is complete and it also comes with a 10-year covenant that protects it from demolition so “the investment can’t be washed away,” she adds.

“The added side benefit is that if we protect a home in the middle of a block, it protects a whole block. When an investor or developer scoops up a row of houses but can’t have the one in the middle, they’ll leave the block alone,” she says.

SAHP’s aim is to grow the program, but to kick it off, the focus is on homeowners in the historic Central Cocoanut District and Newtown neighborhoods, just north of downtown Sarasota. (Newtown is in the process of officially becoming a historically designated neighborhood). The two neighborhoods are similar in that “the large-scale development in the Rosemary District is actively encroaching on the Central Cocoanut Neighborhood, and we see similar trends in Newtown,” DiFazio says.

One home of particular interest to SAHP’s mission is the Wright Bush house at 1723 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way. “We’d love to work with the owners. They have been working to maintain it, and it’s an important landmark. During World War II, it was where Black soldiers congregated since they weren’t allowed at the other clubs,” she says.

Another future neighborhood the SAHP would like to target is the Edgewood District in Venice.

And for those who don’t need the a loan but want the SAHP team’s expertise, there’s a a fee-for-service program option for those who want to pay for the project coordinator to review contractors, coordinate the bids and supervise the work.

To learn more about the loan program click here, or call Erin DiFazio, at (203) 953-9554. The SAHP board of directors recently kicked off a matching gift challenge to double every dollar raised for the program up to $30,000.

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