To try to lure more homebuyers to Westminster and educate residents who want to make the transition from being renters to owners, the city is co-sponsoring a free, one-day conference this week on affordable homeownership.
"Ideally, in our older neighborhoods we would have both kinds of housing - rentals and owner-occupied. It adds more stability when you have people living in a neighborhood long-term. It encourages people to be more involved in their community," said Karen Blanford, head of the city's Office of Housing and Community Development.
Blanford's office is working with the Carroll County Association of Realtors and Interfaith Housing of Western Maryland to coordinate Thursday's conference.
One of the main goals of the conference is to propel the revitalization of Westminster's older neighborhoods and give potential buyers incentives toward purchasing existing homes instead of those in new developments.
"So many people think they can't afford these gorgeous old Victorians, but they're fairly affordable," Blanford said. "Buyers assume they have to renovate, but there are fully restored ones, too. They don't come up on the market that frequently, but when they do it's a wonderful deal."
She encourages potential buyers, real estate agents, landlords, rental brokers and social workers to attend the conference. Speakers will give presentations on city initiatives to promote homeownership, such as mortgage programs, tax credits, low-interest loans and grants. Information booths will direct them to home repair and live-near-your-work options.
Because it is a booming seller's market, Blanford and her colleagues think that more than ever, consumers need to know their options.
"There's a silent movement in our society where housing costs are increasing at almost threefold what they were 10 years ago," said Steve Ferguson, a real estate agent who will be speaking on behalf of the Carroll County Association of Realtors. "People's incomes are becoming eroded by basic needs, and one of the major needs for a family is a house. We need to be able to help people secure a home. Realtors are trying to identify programs for subsidized assistance for the purchase of homes or the rental of property. If we allow these people to be cast aside, they have no help."
Would-be homeowners will also receive warnings on real estate schemes. Predatory lending occurs when a lender dangles a guaranteed mortgage in front of a buyer who is desperate to own a house. The buyer makes a huge down payment and soon cannot keep up with monthly mortgage payments, resulting in foreclosure.
"We are seeing a problem locally with predatory lending," Blanford said. "It tends to be a problem with people who don't have great credit."
She said that out-of-town lenders target individuals in minority groups and lower-income households. The lure of a guaranteed mortgage sometimes cuts off comparison shopping for better interest rates, Blanford said.
An expert who will address the problem Thursday morning is the keynote speaker, Carolyn Y. Peoples. As assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, the Baltimore County native is a high-ranking officer in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Another high-ranking official who will address fair housing is Victor Hoskins, the state's newly appointed secretary of Housing and Community Development. He will talk about mortgage loan programs and other ways of making homeownership a reality for first-time buyers.
The conference will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday at Wakefield Valley Conference Center, 1000 Fenby Farm Road, Westminster. The sessions are free and open to the public. Lunch is $9 in advance or $10 at the door. Information or lunch registration: 410-848-2261.