ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — We’re just under two weeks away from hurricane season. Yet we still drive past so many homes with blue tarps and homes not ready for the season. But a a non-profit has just launched a program to help Bay area families make those improvements.
Mom, Valentine Mathurin, and her daughter stand below a cold stream of air. But just a short time ago their thermostat wasn’t reading a comfortable number. Instead it was a boiling 90 degrees.
“The one [AC] before it was terrible. It had been here for 20 years and it looked like a monster about to take off," said Mathurin.
Her AC system has been a headache since she first bought the house 20 years ago but an unreliable system during a Florida summer means only one thing.
“It was really hot. It was unbearable. Sometimes we stayed over at a friend’s because we couldn’t sleep here at night," she said.
She searched everywhere for a repair or replacement that wouldn’t break her wallet with no luck.
“The price, it was outrageous," she said.
Until she found the Solar Energy Loan Fund” or SELF. The non-profit just partnered up with Hillsborough County and the city of St. Pete to help families like Mathurin’s afford home improvements that also lower their utility bills.
The non-profit has helped out over 800 families in Florida with loans typically going from $5,000 to $15,000 and interest rates between 5% and 9%.
“It’s a big issue where people put off having home improvements done even when they are really necessary," said Jessica Lewis, program manager for SELF St. Pete.
It's especially important with hurricane season just nine days away. Too many homes are still covered in blue tarp.
“They have other priorities, they have to take care of their kids. They have to pay mortgage, they have to pay rent," said Lewis.
But now they can prioritize their homes and it’s not just AC units. SELF also helps with solar panels, roofs, adding hurricane proof shutters and doors and more. Plus, your credit score doesn’t impact eligibility and if the loan isn’t paid you won’t lose your home.
The non-profit is also urging homeowners to be wary of who they lend from.
"We want to prevent people from turning to predatory lenders. A lot of people are at the end of their rope and they put something on their credit card or they take out a loan at a very high interest rate," said Lewis.