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Oliveras

County-Backed Loan Fund a Lifeline for Residents

Most recipients of unsecured loans have low or moderate incomes

Ramon and Betty Oliveras didn't know what to do when the air conditioner in their Riverview mobile home stopped working in April. Ramon borrowed a portable cooling system from a neighbor, but, "It still was stifling," he says.

On fixed incomes and with lots of medical bills, the couple couldn't afford to replace the broken unit. "We were desperate," Betty says.

Ramon heard about the nonprofit Solar Energy Loan Fund (SELF), which partners with Hillsborough County to provide affordable unsecured loans to meet environmental, economic, and social challenges. The loans are for home renovations such as high-efficiency air-conditioners, roof repairs, impact-resistant windows, low-flow irrigation systems, wheelchair ramps, and walk-in showers.

Hillsborough County is supporting the program with a three-year allocation of $300,000, to allow time for SELF to become self-sustaining. The Board of County Commissioners signed on with the program to assist County residents and to bolster the value of the local housing stock, as well as help sustain the environment with efficient appliances and construction.

Most people who qualify for the loans have low and moderate incomes. Loans range from $1,000 for roof repairs to $33,000 for conversion of a home to solar power.

Applicants are thoroughly vetted. SELF representatives review potential clients' financial histories, and assess their ability and commitment to make future loan payments. SELF then stays with homeowners throughout the process, to ensure they receive the commissioned equipment or service.

SELF granted loans to 52 Hillsborough County homeowners in 2018. It currently has a stable of 72 approved local contractors, and stages community events and other outreach to tell residents and contractors about the program.

There are similar SELF programs in a half-dozen other Florida communities. Collectively, they have awarded more than 10 million dollars in loans throughout the state.

After six weeks without cool air in their home, the Oliveras' loan came through. In June, workers installed a new air conditioner.

Ramon and Betty are thrilled, and appreciative.

"I recommend SELF to everybody who falls on bad times," Betty says. "If they can help you, they will. And if they can't, they will try to find you somebody who can."

Photo: Ramon and Betty Oliveras now have cool air in their Riverview home.

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