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Home Ownership Fair Packages A Dream

More than 500 potential mortgagees poured into T.C. Williams High School to explore the intricacies of home ownership.

What attracted them on March 25, was the City of Alexandria's Eighth Annual Home Ownership Fair. There to greet them was a wide array of financial institutions, realtors, government program specialists and even tax analysts.

Alexandria Councilman William D. Euille, kicked off the three and one half hour information/learning event by encouraging the crowd to attend the seminars and meet with the financial specialists. "This is your opportunity to become more than a renter," he told them.

Euille was joined at the podium by Council members Redella S. "Del" Pepper and Joyce Woodson along with Alexandria Office of Housing Director, Mildrilyn Davis. "We have assembled all the things you need for references. Get the answers to your questions," Pepper told the crowd.

Woodson emphasized to the audience that, "Buying a house is not just shelter, it is an investment in the country."

In order to make that investment properly, Davis urged participants to attend the various seminars being conducted throughout the morning.

Four sessions, conducted in both English and Spanish, covered the subjects of The Homebuying Process, Credit Issues, Affordable Financing, and Condominium/Homeowner Association. There were also networking opportunities with exhibitors offering aid in all aspects of homeownership.

"People actually consummate deals here," Euille explained. "Last year we had about 60 people qualify for home loans from this event that would not otherwise have been able to buy. There are even programs that give up to $55,000 toward a down payment."

The two primary programs administered by the city are the Home Ownership Assistance Program (HAP) and the Moderate Income Home Ownership Program (MIHP), according to Shane Cochran, Program Implementation Division Chief, Alexandria Office of Housing.

"Both of these are second trust programs. HAP will provide up to $35,000 and MIHP can now go to $20,000. Previously, Hap was capped at $25,000 and MIHP at $15,000," Cochran explained.

"Qualified applicants can receive assistance in the form of a no-interest, 99-year deferred payment loan for principal reduction, down payment and/or closing cost assistance," according to city publication Homeownership Assistance Programs. Basic program requirements are:

* Must not currently own a home or have an ownership interest in a property.

* Must have lived or worked in the City of Alexandria for at least six months prior to making application.

* Must be a U.S. citizen or possess a valid work permit and Social Security card.

* Net worth must be within VHDA limits.

* Must complete a Housing Counseling Workshop

* Maximum sale price of home is $225,000. Some first trust loan program may have lower limits.

The city has also received an allocation from the Virginia Housing Development Authority's (VHDA) Sponsoring Partnerships and Revitalizing Communities (SPARC) program to provide trust financing to target populations. Total funds available is $2,960,000, to assist a minimum of 20 households in purchasing a home in the city.

"This program is geared to federal, state, local and regional government employees, as well as those of the school district and private schools located within the city, to encourage them to live in Alexandria," Cochran said. Homes purchased through this program must be located within the corporate limits of Alexandria.

SPARC funds will provide VHDA first trust financing at one half percent below VHDA's 30-year conventional loan rate. Loans must be processed by a VHDA-certified lender. Homes purchased through this program may not exceed VHDA limits of $173,200 for new construction and $171,800 for existing homes. All SPARC funds must be committed by Dec. 31, 2002.

"The biggest problem in Alexandria is that there are not enough affordable properties," Frank Fannon, IV, Mortgage Banker with SunTrust Mortgage, Inc., an exhibitor at the Fair, said.

"At SunTrust, if someone is earning $68,500 and can come up with just $500 with good credit, we will finance up to 97 percent on the first trust. The remainder we can make a personal loan," Fannon explained.

Realtor exhibitors at the Fair were not limiting their information to either Alexandria City limits or to a particular price cap. "There are many properties that carry an Alexandria mailing address located in Fairfax County that are more affordable than those located in the city limits," said Barbara A. Brown, a realtor with Weichert Realtors. "Even though the prices in Alexandria are higher, you can still find properties in the city for $212,000 and under. This is particularly true for the Landmark and Route 1 areas," said Maria A. Matthews, another realtor with Long & Foster. One of her handouts detailed a home at 426 N.Henry St., listed at $235,000.

"One of the biggest problems is that there are still too many people who have no idea what their credit rating is," Kevin Connelly, Pacific Guarantee, emphasized. He was distributing a copy of an article entitled "Zero Down Home Loans in the Year 2002."

It stated, "Zero down payment loans are now widely available." But went on to clarify that, "The lowest rates and best terms are only available to borrowers with flawless credit or first time homebuyers who fit tight restrictions." It also gave a synopsis of what Connelly termed "today's hot products."

According to the city's publicity for the Fair, attendees could learn: How to buy a home; What it takes to qualify for a mortgage; How to overcome past credit issues; Where affordable homes are in Alexandria; How to buy with little money down; What homeownership assistance programs are available; and Special home purchase assistance available to government and school employees.

In addition to the private industry exhibitors and the City's Office of Housing, homeownership information was available from representatives of: Housing Counseling Services; U.S.Department of Housing and Urban Development; Virginia Housing Development Authority; Washington-Metro Chapter Community Associations Institute; Homefree USA; and Habitat For Humanity.