Homes looking for good owners

Four three-bedroom houses available for middle-income families who qualify

October 30, 2008|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,larry.carson@baltsun.com

For middle-income families who want to live in Howard County, the four new detached homes sitting in a row in Elkridge offer discount prices and guaranteed financing. But they lack one thing - qualified buyers.

The 1,728-square-foot, three-bedroom homes on Cherry Avenue near the Anne Arundel County border are newly finished - three by the nonprofit Columbia Housing Corp. and one by Habitat for Humanity, the church-backed affordable-home builder.

Although several families are working with the groups to qualify as buyers of three of the residences, no sales are complete, even though the project broke ground nearly a year ago.

"I think it's just hard to get the message out there," said Grace A. Morris, executive director of Columbia Housing, a 41-year-old group that operates hundreds of units of subsidized rental housing, mostly in Columbia.

"It's really hard to get people qualified," Morris said, adding that credit issues have been the main culprit.

Morris spoke as about 40 people gathered in one of the homes early Tuesday for a ribbon-cutting to celebrate the homes' completion and draw public attention to attract more applicants The crowd included representatives from both of the nonprofit groups and county officials.

The national credit crunch is not helping, said Tim Sosinski, a CHC board member who is chairman of the group's development committee. Even at the discount price, a large detached home is difficult for many families to afford in Howard, where the average sale price for all homes is about $430,000.

The Elkridge units come with two finished levels and a large unfinished walk-out basement. Each has a roomy eat-in kitchen, a half-bath and an open living-dining room area that covers half of the first floor, with a sliding-glass door overlooking a grassy backyard. Upstairs there are three bedrooms with large closets and two full bathrooms and a washer and dryer. Each home has a driveway and a covered front porch. The street is a private drive, so residents will have to take their trash to the corner for collection and arrange their own snow removal.

The county government used federal housing funds to pay for extending underground utilities to the site and to help CHC buyers with down payments.

"This is really a true partnership between the private sector, government and nonprofits," said Stacy L. Spann, the county's housing director.

Developer Wayne Newsome donated one lot and sold the other three at reduced prices to make the project work.

"This is an incredible house and a great deal," Newsome said at the event.

The homes are worth about $345,000 retail, but a limited-income buyer for one of the three CHC units would get a $167,655 mortgage, with no down payment in a shared equity arrangement. The corporation would retain a nearly 40 percent interest and would have the first right to repurchase the house if the buyer moves. A buyer would pay property taxes only on the portion he or she owns, under county law, but would need about $11,500 in cash for closing costs. The down payment would come from a $40,000 county-arranged federal loan that would be forgiven if the buyer lives in the house for 15 years.

The monthly payment would be $1,392, according to Barbara Sumney, the Columbia Bank official handling the loans.

To be eligible, buyers' income can be as low as $54,740 for one person, ranging up to $103,224 for a family of eight or more. A family of four could earn up to $78,200.

The Habitat for Humanity house buyer would pay about $950 a month to Habitat, which built and paid for the house and lot and would hold the mortgage, said George Hunter III, chairman of the board.

Hunter said 11 county churches helped support the Habitat house, though he said church donations to Habitat are sharply lower over the past half-year, meaning that Habitat's next project could be delayed. This is Habitat's second home built in Howard County.

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