Habitat for Humanity, Job Point up for affordable housing grants

Tuesday, September 14, 2010 | 7:06 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Of the $99,000 the city has left over from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for fiscal 2010, Habitat for Humanity should get $75,000 and Job Point $24,000, the city's Community Development Commission decided Wednesday evening.

The City Council will review that suggestion next month, Planning and Development Director Tim Teddy said.

Both groups defended their applications for the money during the commission meeting Wednesday. The money comes from HUD's Community Housing Development Organization program, which is intended to create affordable housing. No other organizations applied for funding.

Both Habitat for Humanity and Job Point share the mission of developing community housing, but they go about it differently, Job Point president and CEO Jay Loveless said.

Habitat for Humanity’s strength is that it can cheaply build eight to 10 houses per year, Habitat executive director Bill View said. Loveless, on the other hand, said Job Point’s strength is that it aggressively seeks out homes in neighborhoods that need to be revitalized while also providing job training and life skills for at-risk youth.

One of Job Point’s projects includes a newly built house at 409 McBaine Ave., Loveless said. The house was completed in August 2010 and awaits a buyer. It is priced at $121,000, but people with low to moderate income can buy it for $87,500 and Job Point will use federal money to cover the rest, Loveless said.

Not all the commissioners, however, were sold on Job Point’s strategy. 

“The whole concept is noble, but I am concerned with expenses of the project,” commissioner O.U. Ukoha said, arguing that it would be difficult to sell a Job Point home if it's more expensive than others in the neighborhood.

“If the homebuyer didn’t get a down payment somewhere else, this program is impossible,” Ukoha said.

Loveless said the goal is more important than the economics. “The intent of the federal government is to revitalize neighborhoods."

Mitch Ritter, chairman of the commission, said Job Point is relying on city assistance made possible by a temporary infusion of federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program money.

Some of the homes that Job Point rehabilitates were actually purchased by the city, and it does little good, Ritter argued, to create one nice house in a dilapidated area. The only way to improve property values in an entire neighborhood is to rehabilitate all the homes, he said.

Loveless countered. “The philosophy is that neighborhoods won’t decline,” he said. “What’s the alternative, let them go downhill and turn into crack houses?”

City housing planner Ra’Chel’Ni Mar’Na questioned commissioners' understanding of the goals of Neighborhood Stabilization funding.

“When we say, should we spend in bad neighborhoods versus neighborhoods not quite as bad, I have two responses,” Mar’Na said.

First, that kind of thinking creates barriers between good and bad neighborhoods, she said, adding that homes such the one at 102 E. Sexton Road are selected strategically. It's on a very stable block, the neighboring school is a strong anchor and improving this property means there is one less derelict house children have to pass by, Mar'Na said.

Commissioners were more positive about Habitat for Humanity's plan. Habitat builds new homes then sells them for $60,000 to $65,000, View said. It restricts mortgages  to 20 years, and buyers pay zero interest.

Mortgage payments on Habitat homes average about $410 a month, including insurance and taxes. Housing applicants have to be 30 to 50 percent below the median income level and have a record of paying their bills for five years, View said. 

View also noted that only one of the 98 homes Habitat has built in the community has been foreclosed upon.

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