Coalition’s Annual Housing Conference Connects Homebuyers With Resources

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By Stefanie Jackson – The Eastern Shore Regional Housing Coalition held its annual summit Sept. 24 at the Mary N. Smith Cultural Enrichment Center, in Accomac, followed by a housing conference for potential homebuyers to connect with people and resources to learn how to afford a home and qualify for a loan.

Housing experts on hand to answer questions included Jorge “Jay” Diaz-Herrera, of Coldwell Banker Harbour Realty, Amanda Healey, of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (VDHCD), Chris Thompson, of Virginia Housing, and Hugh Hennessy, of the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission.

Hennessy is a housing counselor for A-NPDC, the only location on the Shore to offer “HUD-certified” housing counseling (approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development).

Owning a home is a prime way to build net worth. The average homeowner’s net worth is 36 times greater than that of a renter, according to the Federal Reserve in 2013.

But it takes more than savings to buy a home. Good credit also is necessary, and one-third of first-time homebuyers underestimate their total household debt.

Housing counseling can help potential homebuyers set realistic financial goals, create manageable budgets, avoid delinquency on debt payments, and improve their credit scores.

Borrowers who have had HUD-approved housing counseling are nearly three times more likely to receive loan modifications and 30% more likely to avoid foreclosure.

Types of housing counseling available through A-NPDC include rental counseling, budget and financial literacy, post-purchase housing counseling, and foreclosure prevention.

Housing conference attendees also were introduced to Bobbie Jo Wert, the new Eastern Shore loan specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development – one of the two largest housing lenders on the Shore along with Virginia Housing, said Ava Wise, who organized the event.

Wert discussed USDA’s two top home loan programs, Rural Home Loans, aka the Section 502 Direct Loan Program, and Single Family Home Loan Guarantees.

Rural Home Loans are for low- and very-low income applicants who cannot obtain a conventional home loan and live in a rural area with a population of less than 35,000.

Single Family Home Loan Guarantees are for applicants from low- and moderate-income households. The applicant’s household income may not exceed 115% of the median household income, and the applicant must be unable to obtain a conventional home loan without private mortgage insurance or PMI.

USDA also offers the Section 504 Home Repair program, which provides loans for very-low-income homeowners to repair, improve, or modernize their homes and grants for elderly, very-low-income homeowners to remove health and safety hazards from their homes.

USDA has no plans to establish a brick-and-mortar office on the Eastern Shore; instead, a home loan applicant makes an appointment and meets Wert at a location of the applicant’s choice, such as a current residence or public place.

Wert enjoys walking homebuyers through the loan process and assisting them in completing the applications.

“I love helping my families,” she said.

Additional programs available to low-income households include the Weatherization Assistance Program, which increases a home’s energy efficiency through measures such as installing insulation, repairing heating and cooling systems, and replacing incandescent lights with energy efficient bulbs. This lowers energy bills and the overall cost of homeownership.

The U.S. Department of Energy grants funding to agencies such as VDHCD, which partner with nonprofit organizations like Project Homes to provide the weatherization services.

For more information on housing counseling, contact Hugh Hennessy, A-NPDC, by phone at 757-787-2936 or email hhennessy@a-npdc.org

For USDA home loan assistance, contact Bobbie Jo Wert by phone at 757-653-2532 ext. 4 or 434-316-2104, or email bobbie.wert@usda.gov