WINTON -- It was several months ago when Realtor Andy Krotik, sales manager of Coldwell Banker Gonella Realty's Atwater branch, walked into a house at 7332 Edythe Circle in Winton to do a routine property check on the foreclosed, bank-owned house.
Immediately after walking in, Krotik heard someone flee out the back door -- a squatter who left behind piles of marijuana he was packaging to sell.
Aside from the illegal activity, the rest of the dwelling was in disrepair. Exposed wires, damaged plumbing and a shabby roof created a house that wasn't only an eyesore, but also brought down nearby property values.
It didn't take long after that encounter before workers started cleaning and refurbishing the house -- a project that was made possible through a federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant the county was awarded about a year ago.
The Edythe Circle house is the first of many to be completed with the $2.7 million in grant money, said Mark Hendrickson, director of commerce, aviation and economic development for Merced County.
The county owns eight other distressed houses that are getting the same treatment, said Hendrickson, whose department is still in the process of buying other foreclosed properties to renovate.
Hendrickson said he hopes future projects will turn out the same as the Edythe Circle project.
"When we initially acquired this property, it was in horrible shape," Hendrickson said. "Weekend projects over many years, done apparently without permits, made it unsafe and unhealthy. It didn't meet modern building codes."
The $2.7 million grant will all go toward refurbishing distressed houses in Winton over the next three years to allow families to move into them. Proceeds from the sales of the refurbished properties can go toward continuing the effort down the road.
Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, whose District 4 covers Winton, said Neighborhood Stabilization Program funding is very sought after and Winton is "the perfect community" for its use.
"The money that's generated will go back into this community and stay in this community," Kelsey said during an open house ceremony Wednesday.
Several officials from Winton and the county were on hand to tour the house.
Krotik, who's been working with Hendrickson to buy qualifying homes, said the program doesn't only improve the residential areas in Winton, it also puts local people to work through the renovations and sales.
About 20 houses in Winton will be refurbished through the program.
Once the properties are put on the market, they'll be sold to qualified buyers, a portion of which have to be low-income.
The house is being listed for sale at $84,000.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.