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Housing program aids homebuyers purchasing first home


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Photo by Jason Ruiter. Selivia Diggs is interviewed by reporters Thursday, April 11, about the purchase of her new District Heights home, a third of which was paid by the Prince George’s County Department of Housing and Community Development.

Photo by Jason Ruiter. Selivia Diggs is interviewed by reporters Thursday, April 11, about the purchase of her new District Heights home, a third of which was paid by the Prince George’s County Department of Housing and Community Development.

Published on: Tuesday, April 16, 2013

By Jason Ruiter

How much will the Prince George’s Department of Housing and Community Development pay for your home if you are a first-time homeowner?

Selivia Diggs, a stylist in Alexandria, just signed the final papers last Thursday with $35,000 of her $95,000 District Heights home paid for by the agency.

“It’s very emotional. I can’t process it,” she said, tearing up. “I’m a homeowner. I’ve been trying two years to the day. I never thought I’d be able to buy a house until this program.”

The county agency helps first-time homebuyers according to a sliding scale in their income, the number of expected residents and, sometimes, their occupation.

Firefighters, police officers, nurses and Suitland Federal Center employees can receive up to 7 percent of their loans paid.

Although the program is called “Buy Suitland,” people interested in buying homes in Morningside or District Heights can also receive aid.

“We are trying to encourage people to buy homes in this area” because the area has suffered foreclosures since the recession, said Eric Brown, director of the Department of Housing and Community Development.

People with 50 percent of the area’s median income — $37,600 for one person — or below and based on the number of expected residents in the new home, can receive up to $40,000 in aid.

But there is a slight catch.

“We also want to be able to recycle the proceeds,” said Rosalyn Clemens, manager of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. “As an incentive, the longer you stay in the home the less you have to pay.”

If Diggs stays at her new home for less than five years, she has to pay the entire loan from the agency back. But if she lives there for more than 15 years, she only has to pay half of the $35,000 back.

For a 1,080-square-foot townhome just over 20 years old, with a fenced in backyard and neighbors with cherry blossoms, Diggs couldn’t be happier.

“For people with very low income, they would not be able to get this,” said Rhonda Lewis, Diggs’ mortgage loan officer from PrimeLending. “These programs are so needed.”

Although the program gives its biggest financial aid to those with lower-income, residents with 120 percent of the area’s median income can receive up to 5 percent on their loans paid based on the number of expected residents.

The money from Buy Suitland is part of federal aid.

As part of Obama’s second stimulus package, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development created the Neighborhood Stabilization Program as the partial answer to the real estate bubble and the recession of late 2007.

The first stimulus package proffered NSP with $7 billion that went to local government after a competitive application process. After distribution, the Prince George’s County Department of Housing and Community Development received around $10 million during the first stimulus.

According to Clemens, that money was used to help more than 700 people with their down payments in addition to rehabilitating 29 foreclosed or abandoned homes and selling 25 of them.

This time around, the county only got $1.8 million and Diggs was the sixth person to receive funding. The county housing department hopes that the coverage of Diggs’ story will bring in more potential buyers.

“I heard about (Buy Suitland) from my realtor,” Diggs said. “It took about a month” to close on a home after that.

Diggs, and any other homebuyer, are required by HUD to complete an eight-hour course on the complexities and process of buying a new home. Diggs, who had already been searching for a home for two years, said the class was a breeze.

Nonetheless, after two stimulus packages meant to repair the real estate bubble, the economy is still struggling.

“With a national debt approaching $17 trillion, I think we need to limit federal spending to the most essential things,” said Heather Olsen, first vice chair of the Republican Central Committee for Prince George’s County over an email interview.

But the government’s real estate injection may just take time. In a recent survey of 2,430 real estate professionals this year by ActiveRain, 84 percent think real estate values will increase.

Olsen worried about homebuyers walking away on government-paid homes, wasting the money. The question was always there: “Why should someone who bought their house years ago, or someone who chooses to rent, have to pay more taxes so that someone else can buy a house?”

Diggs, who will live alone in her new home, has already picked out the wall colors with her mother and will have her brothers bring in the furniture, heralding the event with a final breaking-in barbeque.

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