Four families win discount on homes

Moderate-income program gets buyers into new Howard County houses at reduced prices

August 31, 2008|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,larry.carson@baltsun.com

Four more families are set to buy new homes at a discount under Howard County's housing program for middle-income families, but six additional residences are awaiting owners.

The county requires developers to make a small percentage of units built in some areas available at below-retail prices under the Moderate Income Housing Unit program. Three Ryan Homes developments along U.S. 1 have units in the program about to go under construction.

In the drawing held Wednesday in the county's Gateway Building, two townhouses were available at both the Belmont Station and Village Towns developments, while one townhouse and five two-bedroom condominiums were offered at Elkridge Crossing.

But only five of the 16 families who qualified for the drawing chose to participate, housing officials said. And one of the five chose not to buy after not being chosen for a Belmont Station home. They intend to wait until more homes in the popular development become available, said Thomas P. Carbo, deputy county housing director.

That's fine, Carbo said, because none of the 10 units offered at Wednesday's drawing has been built. None of the applicants was present for the drawing.

Reaching into a gold drum, Carbo chose a buyer for a two-bedroom condominium apartment at Elkridge Crossing, at U.S. 1 and Montgomery Road. The home will sell for $180,651.

He also drew names for two Belmont Station homes, which come with garages and cost $202,246 for program participants, compared with the $313,000 retail price tag.

One Village Towns home priced at $193,600 was also awarded. That development is off Port Capitol Drive, near U.S. 1. That left four apartment-style condominiums, an Elkridge Crossing townhouse and one Village Towns unit awaiting buyers.

Jamie Murphy, 28, a newly minted cardiac nurse at Howard County General Hospital and the single mother of a 7-year-old son, said she feels "overwhelmed and excited" at the thought of buying a house. She wanted a Belmont Station home but was chosen for Village Towns.

"We've been trying to buy a house for the past six months," she said, adding that she wants her son to remain in the Howard school system.

She and her son rent a two-bedroom apartment in Columbia now for $1,216 a month, she said. She expects her mortgage to increase by several hundred dollars a month. Others chosen include people who work for Howard Community College, where Murphy attended nursing school, and the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Administration.

Belmont Station is popular because the stone-front homes surround a large community meeting and recreation clubhouse and a swimming pool, Carbo said. The development is just east of U.S. 1, north of Route 100. Another drawing will be held in September.

Still, housing officials have had a hard time finding enough qualified people to compete for the MIHU homes since prices began escalating in recent years. A down payment and closing costs can require $15,000 in cash or more, and a $200,000-plus-priced home can be tough for a family of four with an income lower than $75,408 to afford.

"We have over 650 people on our list in a year's time interested in buying homes," Carbo said, adding that many do not qualify for mortgages.

"It's a stretch," he said. "They haven't saved a lot of money for a down payment or settlement costs, and they've often stretched their credit cards."

But the county is moving to ease the qualification process by tweaking regulations, Carbo said. Officials are considering reducing the minimum credit score from the industry standard 620 to 580, said Christopher Julien, who oversees home ownership programs in the housing department. That could allow families with no serious credit problems but a few blemishes - such as a few late payments - to qualify.

Another possible change would involve raising the $6,000 ceiling on the maximum amount the county is willing to lend as a second mortgage to help cover down payment and closing costs.

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