Low-rate housing loans are available to first-time homebuyers in Carroll

County officials seeking to publicize state program

September 01, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

First-time homebuyers with modest incomes could benefit from a state mortgage program that encourages homeownership, particularly in Maryland's older neighborhoods, and the Carroll County commissioners want to make residents aware of the service.

The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development forms partnerships with counties in the "on behalf of local governments" program, which was established in 1980. Carroll's share from the program this year is more than $4.5 million.

"Eligible applicants can access these funds through their lenders," said Michael G. Ritter, deputy director of the county's Department of Citizen Services.

Applicants must meet income requirements, which vary depending on the size of the household. For a family of three or more in Carroll County, annual income cannot exceed $89,180.

Homes must be in a priority funding area, which, in Carroll, is in or near the eight municipalities. The maximum cost of an eligible home varies by jurisdiction. In Carroll, the cost for newly constructed or existing homes cannot exceed $261,609. The median selling price last year in the county was $230,000, according to the Metropolitan Regional Information System.

"Banks are aware of, and should steer those eligible to, the program," said Steven Powell, the commissioners' chief of staff.

Carroll is working on a comprehensive study of housing needs, due by the end of November, that is expected to show a lack of affordable and work-force housing, officials said.

For the next 60 days, county lenders will have exclusive access to the state mortgage money, which would be offered to applicants at a low rate of interest. On Nov. 1, any unused funds will go into a statewide pool. The commissioners are eager to make the public aware of the program.

"We give the money back to the state, and then it is used by everyone else in the state," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, referring to the county's previous experiences with the program. "We have people here who need housing and don't have the money, but the average low-income resident does not know about this program."

Gouge said she hopes the funds could spur construction of affordable housing or revitalization of homes in older communities.

Carroll must have an affordable-housing project under way or at least in the planning stages to keep the funds here instead of going into the statewide pool, Ritter said.

"Previous [commissioners] have not encouraged participation; basically, the program was for low-income people," Gouge said. "Think how many would be thrilled to be in their own house."

The county usually has returned the funds because area lenders have not urged prospective homebuyers to apply for the money, Gouge said.

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