Some people who get government vouchers to help pay their rent will soon be able to apply their assistance money toward mortgage payments for buying homes.
The Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority will be among the nation's first agencies to begin using a program recently approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The program is meant to turn people who are receiving housing assistance into homeowners.
Dennis Morgan, executive director of the housing authority, said the program is a good alternative to help people with moderate incomes buy homes.
Mr. Morgan said an underlying goal of any housing authority should be to help its clients become independent. The new program, he said, will help ease clients off public assistance. Only people who get aid through Section 8, a program that helps with rent payments to private landlords, will be eligible for the home-ownership program.
Those who qualify will have to go through a self-sufficiency program that will teach such things as home maintenance, budgeting, how to negotiate a purchase price, and obtain financing.
Matthew Sutter, manager of home ownership and development for the housing authority, said he is trying to have a program in place by January for people getting Section 8 rental aid.
Those who may qualify might be described as the working poor - people who have steady work histories, but haven't made enough to be able to get by without some government assistance.
Mr. Sutter said some renters have never considered owning a home because their parents and other family members never have owned one.
“One lady said her landlord was going to sell the house she was living in and she didn't want to move,” he said.
“When I asked what she was earning and how much rent she was paying, I was able to show her that she would save money by buying the house,” he said.
Mr. Sutter recently went to Nashville, where a pilot project has placed two people in homes they are buying.
“One advantage we have is that the Toledo area has a lot of good homes for sale in the range of $60,000 to $70,000, which should be affordable under the new program,” he said.
Some clients, Mr. Sutter added, may be able to buy houses costing as much as $80,000.
He said Nashville has more housing available at much higher prices, or the houses are substandard.
A goal of the Toledo program is to initially get about 15 families into their own homes.
Then, Mr. Sutter said, “We think we can get about 30 people annually into the program.”
Vickie Ludeman, director of LMHA housing programs, predicted that a “good percentage of people getting assistance ... will try to get into the program.”
About 2,800 people in the Toledo area receive Section 8 assistance to pay landlords. What isn't known yet is how many will qualify for the assistance to buy homes.
Because family circumstances vary to such a great extent, Ms. Ludeman said she can't say what the average payment toward a mortgage would be, but it will be the same amount as the person's rental assistance.
“Because these people are working, they will probably pay 75 to 85 per cent of what is owed [on the mortgage],” she said.
Mr. Sutter said LMHA plans to contract with a social service agency that can help individuals identify affordable housing. Agency representatives will help with counseling before and after the home purchase.
“They'll be there if a problem comes up after a purchase, because we don't want the new homeowners to become discouraged,” Mr. Sutter said.
He said he anticipates a number of applicants won't be suited to the program.
“But even if they don't qualify, we can catch them now and work with them,” he said.
“If the problem is bad credit we can show them how to improve their credit rating,” he said. “We can take care of a lot of those kinds of problems and maybe they'll qualify in a year or two.”