Columbia discusses homeownership assistance

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COLUMBIA - Columbia will hold a public hearing Wednesday to discuss a proposal requesting $175,000 in home funding to continue the Home Ownership Assistance Program.

"The buyers that are participating in the program have the ability to build equity and build wealth within their households, otherwise they wouldn't be able to [participate]," Randy Cole, the Housing Program Supervisor with Columbia, said. "Also, they really help to strengthen our neighborhoods where there's high concentration of rentals by making sure we have homeowner-occupied-households staying in those properties for an extended period of time that they maintain their properties also looking out for their neighbors in their neighborhoods."

The funds are available to first-time buyers and those that have not owned a home within the last three years.

"We've seen a great increase in the use of our program. Last year we did 29 households, the year before we did 17. Right now we've already done 12, so I expect we will exceed last years' numbers. My biggest concern was making sure we have enough money to serve everybody that comes into the door and needs assistance," Cole said.

The 2016 HOA Program could provide up to $7,500 to be used for a down payment or closing costs.

"We're helping low-income families that are ready to buy. We've helped to prepare - we provide them with a down payment assistance, education, make sure they have adequate income levels to be able to afford the house and make sure their credit scores are great," Cole said.

Lisa Meyer, a Realtor of MeyerWorks, LLCsaid she is "cautiously optimistic" with the HOA Program, because she thinks the program has limited value based on several factors.

"I think that it's a positive option for a very small percent of people who use it,"  I think that the majority of people would be better off if they had financial counseling, and have more skin of the game, and more able to purchase without this loan," Meyer said.

She's concerned that when the city just encourages people to borrow money to own a home without understanding some of the other responsibilities of homeownership that could be detrimental.

"Instead of lending money to people in a city assistance type of program, I think we will be doing a greater service by offering more financial education, helping people repair their credit, learn more about financial management to get into a [more stable financial] position," Meyer said.

The Home Ownership Assistance Program is free to income eligible households. Participants are required to bring $500 of their own money to the deal when purchasing a house.

Later Cole added, "The city takes a thorough look at each participant's ability to purchase a home including their credit, income and ability to afford home ownership. We also require each participant to attend a four hour training which includes information on working with a lender, Realtor, on-going responsibilities of home ownership and other important aspects of becoming a homeowner."

"If a participant does not meet our underwriting requirements, or is not financially prepared to go through our program, the City provides funding for the participant to go through a 10 week financial counseling program, and can then reapply for the Homeownership Program," Cole said.

[Editor's note: This story has been updated to include additional quotes and context from the city.]