City, county move toward aiding new homebuyers|[03/18/08]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 18, 2008

In separate discussions, Warren County and Vicksburg officials appeared ready to take steps to provide assistance on homebuying.

Unlike two previous applications to the federally backed Home Investment Partnerships Program, or HOME program, an application county supervisors could approve Thursday might result in some new construction.

If approved, the county would act as a conduit in a program administered on the state level by the Mississippi Development Authority.

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It helps low-income homebuyers obtain houses through deferred loans of about $20,000 and forgiven over a 10-year period. Conditions include attending homebuyer education classes. Applications filed by supervisors in 2006 and 2007 entailed getting people into existing homes, but no one qualified.

Under an arrangement first pitched to the county late last year, the local government would select a development firm to manage the grant funds. A public hearing date will be set where bids will be taken for housing inspections and legal services.

In November, a Jackson-based firm, Housing & Finance Services LLC, and local nonprofit We Care Community Center expressed interest in participating in the program in Warren County. The latter is in the process of building homes in the Marcus Bottom area.

Homes would likely be of moderate size, specifically those that go on the open market for less than $120,000, often mentioned in real estate and construction circles as being too unprofitable to build on the production end due to fuel and equipment costs.

Each application is for $250,000 in down payment assistance. About $15 million will be available from the state to most eligible cities and towns. Other areas able to apply for HOME funds on their own as “Participating Jurisdictions” are Jackson, Hattiesburg and a consortium of Biloxi and Gulfport and Harrison County.

In their meeting, Vicksburg officials voted to prepare and submit an application for the 2008 Affordable Housing Program, a program that could help 20 first-time homebuyers receive about $10,000 for down payment and closing cost assistance. The money, if provided to the city’s housing and community development program, would be funded through the Federal Loan Bank of Dallas. The application is one of four potential funding opportunities identified by the director and housing coordinator in a letter to Mayor Laurence Leyens last month.

Leyens created waves when he hinted at shutting down the program, a thought that surfaced after the resignation of former City Planner Wayne Mansfield, who has not been replaced. Mansfield now leads the county’s economic development foundation.

In the fall of 2007, deadlines to submit applications and receive potential funding passed, according to a letter sent by Beatrice Moore, director of housing and community development.

Leyens, who has said housing is essential to community growth, has met twice this year with housing program workers, challenging them to take a different approach and market more to people who live outside Vicksburg and those who rent instead of own. If approved, Moore said the program would receive $200,000 to be divvied up among first-time homebuyers with very low to moderate incomes.

The home ownership rate in Warren County is 68 percent, and 56 percent inside the city; Mississippi’s home ownership rate is 72 percent, according to data from the city planning department. According to statistics compiled by the EDF and the Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce and provided to Leyens, about 5,500 people commute to Vicksburg and Warren County from surrounding communities.

If you goVicksburg’s housing and community development program will offer a homebuyer education course from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. April 5 at the public library. The program is for potential first-time homebuyers. For information, call 601-634-4522.