Affordable housing initiative gains council approval

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American dream becomes more of a reality for Los Alamos residents

By Kirsten Laskey

The Los Alamos County Council made a move to make home ownership more in reach for a greater number of local residents.
At its regular meeting Tuesday night, the council approved the affordable housing program.
“The county has been working on affordable housing for several years and it’s one of the council’s goals,” Vice Council Chair Sharon Stover told the Monitor Wednesday, “and Steve Brugger (housing and special projects manager) has done a phenomenal job working on this. (This is) just one of the stages of the affordable housing program and it is something that our community has needed. It’s going to be for a variety of folks. The program is diverse enough to meet different people’s needs.”
Brugger added, “I think for low income households it can be difficult to borrow money and even to have money saved to do necessary improvements.”
To help out, the affordable housing program will assist with three types of housing rehabilitation activities: emergency repairs to correct an immediate threat to health, safety and welfare, repairs needed to bring a housing unit up to county code compliance and conservation efforts to reduce gas and electric consumption as well as to reduce operating costs.
The program will offer tiered assistance. For those who are making less than 50 percent of the area median income, they will be eligible to receive zero interest deferred payment loans from the county. Low-income households earning between 50 and 80 percent of the area median income are eligible to receive interest bearing deferred payment loans from the county.
Brugger said 80 percent of the median income for a one-person household would be $45,100 while the median income for a four-person household would be $64,400.
Besides income requirements, the program also requires leveraging other non-county funds for rehabilitation except for emergency repairs.
These funds could come from the Mortgage Finance Authority, the United States Department of Agriculture and other agencies.
Through the deferred payment loans, homeowners do not need to make payments. The loan just needs to be paid when the home is sold. Or, if a homeowner still qualifies as a low-income household at the end of mortgage, then the loan will be forgiven, Brugger said.
The loan amounts would range from $2,500 to $10,000.
In addition to deferred payment loans, the program will offer technical expertise, Brugger said. The expertise would include helping people with cost estimates, assisting them through rehabilitation process, learning how to get a contractor on board, identifying qualified contractors and other factors.
The process to receive assistance will include submitting an application, conducting a preliminary assessment of funding options, visiting the home and preparing a write-up and cost estimate of the potential rehabilitation work, creating specifications for the work to be performed and to be included in a bid package, evaluating bids and selecting and entering an agreement with a contractor.
This is just one phase in the program. Council earlier approved a land donation and discount program, Brugger said. The final step, he said, is for the council to approve the rules and regulations for the program. This is expected to go before council sometime in January, he said.
This is not the county’s first affordable housing program. Affordable housing units were built in the Piñon Trails subdivision in White Rock.
Brugger said, “I think as far as the housing rehabilitation part, I think there was a program offered in the past but it was using just one funding source. Here, to be successful in our grant applications, we have to apply for multiple funding sources.
“In this program, we would have to use multiple funding sources. This is contingent to being successful in grant applications. The key is using multiple sources and combining those multiple financial resources with technical assistance.”
During the meeting, Councilor Robert Gibson wondered if a section in the ordinance should be amended to prevent those who, at the end of the mortgage no longer qualify as low-income housing, decide to take advantage of the program.
Gibson made a motion to change the wording in the ordinance to say if at the end of the mortgage, the household is no longer considered low income than interest should be accrued.
Although Councilor Vincent Chiravalle agreed with Gibson, saying that those who can afford to pay back the loan, should, the motion failed.
Councilor Mike Wheeler noted that the chances of a person moving out of the low-income bracket are “slim to none.” He added the affordable housing program has been addressed for two years and should be approved.