Local realtors aims for affordability

The Sussex County Association of Realtors (SCAoR) welcomed more than 25 members of the public at their recent “Realtors Go LOCAL” event at their Georgetown office. SCAoR and their Housing Opportunities Partners Committee have developed the program to assist homebuyers in making their dream of home ownership a reality. The LOCAL in Go LOCAL stands for “Local Opportunity Creates Affordable Living.”

“It’s a multi-prong approach,” explained Ruth Briggs-King, executive vice president of SCAoR.

In April, the SCAoR held their first “Home from Work” educational program. The Employer Assisting Housing program has three elements: homebuyer education, counseling and financial assistance provided by the employer. In the LOCAL plan, Realtors provide education and counseling at no cost.

“More importantly, Realtors will assist employees in using other programs available to provide financial assistance,” said Briggs-King. “They’ll learn how to leverage them together, foreclosure prevention and get qualified for how much they can borrow.”

Briggs King said program has garnered interest from some of the biggest employers in the county, such as the county itself, Del Tech, Beebe hospital and Allen Family Foods. She said the employer assistance program was so successful, they plan to do another one or two.

While Realtors were receiving training on the LOCAL program, a partnership was developing between the Sussex County Community Development Department and non-profits, including NCALL, Habitat for Humanity, First State Community Action Agency and Milford Housing “in response to the Neighborhood Stabilization Plan,” which brings together a multitude of resources to assist buyers in the home buying process.

“It’s about pooling resources,” Briggs-King said. “Studies show that the average first-time homebuyer relies on friends and neighbors for advice. While well intended, the advice may fall short of the need.”

This past week, SCAOR held a Realtors Go LOCAL event that allowed members of the public meet with Realtors and their partners in the Neighborhood Stabilization Plan.

“There’s $2 million dollars to help people purchase foreclosed homes and help homeowners leverage, and there’s programs to encourage people to buy homes closer to work.”

The funding Briggs-King is referring to is the $2 million allocated from the Delaware State Housing Authority to Sussex County under the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. Recently, Sussex County officials announced they will use the money for the county’s Neighborhood Stabilization Fund. The local program should be up and running later this summer and aims to stabilize neighborhoods by putting buyers into foreclosed homes.

According to county officials, they will use the funding to lend to Sussex County Habitat for Humanity, the Milford Housing Development Corp. and the Diamond State Land Trust, which would then purchase and rehab forecloses homes in the Georgetown, Greenwood, Laurel, Seaford and Milford ZIP codes – the areas hardest hit by foreclosure.

They would pay back into the fund as the homes are sold to new buyers and the fund would then continue to finance similar projects. Eligibility and income requirements for this particular program mean that a family of four can make no more than 120 percent of the area’s median income, or about $70,000, if they want to qualify.

Briggs-King said the SCAoR’s role in the program is to identify properties for sale that have been through the foreclosure process and are currently on the market for the lender. She said potential buyers had the opportunity to walk through the home-buying process during the Realtors’ Go LOCAL event and could meet with one of the partners.

She also mentioned that the county has money available for people who find homes that have work that needs to be done before they can get to the settlement table – another obstacle to homeownership. SCAoR has applied for a few grants to help provide closing costs, “which can be daunting,” Briggs-King noted. They also educate buyers on and encourage home inspections – especially for homes put through the foreclosure process – as well as offering education on recent tax credit changes that can assist in making the dream of home ownership a reality.

Closer to home, the LOCAL program focuses on workforce housing, which focuses on home ownership for families earning between $43,000 and $81,000 per year.

“There’s a misconception that this is low-cost housing,” said Briggs-King. “This benefits the majority of Sussex Countians. “The average income in Sussex County is $27,000 or $28,000, so this is targeting a lot of average, working Sussex County residents.”

For more information on the Sussex County Association of Realtors, visit www.scaor.com.

For more information on the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, contact Brandy A. Bennett at Sussex County Community Development & Housing at (302) 855-7777, or visit www.NSPDelaware.org.