SONOMA COUNTY – Up to six foreclosed homes in Sonoma County will soon be rehabbed and converted into public housing, including the possibility of new, badly needed mental health beds.

Over the next several weeks, community groups and nonprofits will vie for a piece of a local $1.9 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant called the “neighborhood stabilization program,” which designates funding specifically for the re-use of abandoned or foreclosed homes.

The Sonoma County Community Development Commission along with the cities of Santa Rosa and Petaluma applied for a piece of the program last year, and officials expect to begin receiving funds by the end of next month. The program will distribute $3.9 billion nationwide.

“The philosophy behind opening the money up to community nonprofits was that because they are single-family homes, they kind of lend themselves to community housing. Our intention is to play the role of the bank and make the funding available, that way the county doesn’t have to operate the facility,” said Community Development Manager Mark Krug.

Once the California Department of Housing and Community Development releases the funding to the county, nonprofits will get the “green light” to submit applications for a house on a first-come, first-served basis. Nonprofit group Community Housing Sonoma County is helping four potential applicants apply for the funding, including one for the homeless, veterans, drug rehabilitation and mental health patients.

In addition to an application, the service providers must have a foreclosed property in contract or escrow.

“This is a great opportunity for smaller service providers to help their clients get into permanent and stable housing,” said Community Housing Executive Director Paula Cook.

The homes will range between $250,000 to $300,000 and have three to five bedrooms. The county will offer a loan of about 30 years and 3 percent interest, though Mr. Krug said the debt will likely be forgiven. Residents will pay between $300 and $400 a month for rent.

“Housing is a critical piece of stability for individuals struggling with mental illness, and currently there are very few beds available,” said Rosemary Milbrath, executive director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness Sonoma County.

NAMI is among the nonprofits planning to purchase a home, likely in the Petaluma area.