By Tim Leeds 

Havre changes first-time home buyer assistance


Program to be administered by Great Falls org.

While the people buying homes should hardly notice any difference, Havre City Council Monday approved switching how assistance to first-time home buyers will be provided.

"I think it will pretty much be the same process for the borrower, " said Annmarie Robinson of Bear Paw Development Corp.

City Council unanimously approved partnering with NeighborWorks Montana to provide first-time home buyer assistance to qualified applicants in the city and to make the mayor the official to review environmental records for the program.

The program helps first-time home buyers who qualify with loans to pay closing costs and make down payments.

Robinson said the city has provided the assistance since 1995, but increasing governmental requirements have made it very difficult to administer.

The state mandated last year that the funding for local home buyer assistance programs be put under state control, with localities applying in a noncompetitive process for funding. Robinson said that, after the city loan committee reviewed increasing requirements in administering such programs and in making the loans, it made the recommendation to City Council to partner with the Great Falls-based NeighborWorks in its assistance program.

She said the Chouteau County Commission also has approved partnering with NeighborWorks, and the Hill County Commission is considering doing the same, as is the Liberty County Commission. She will be meeting with Blaine and Phillips county commissions to talk about the same subject, she said.

"This will really open up the whole area, " Robinson said.

Havre started its program to help low- and moderate-income families with closing costs or home rehabilitation after it received a grant in 1992 through the Home Investment Partnership Program. Since 1995, it has helped 85 families purchase homes, she said.

In the program, as people payed off their mortgages the money loaned through the city program was returned to the revolving fund to be loaned out to new applicants.

Robinson said that, as of March 31, the fund had about $137,000.

In the Havre process, people worked through their banks or real estate agents to make an application for assistance. If the home buyers and the residence met requirements, the application for help would be forwarded to the loan committee, which would then make a recommendation to City Council.

If approved, the council could then access money from the revolving loan account to provide assistance,

Robinson said essentially the same will happen now, except that the request will go to NeighborWorks rather than the local loan committee.

If approved, Bear Paw Development will work on required documentation, with the mayor signing off on environmental reviews and District IV Human Resource Development Council conducting a housing quality inspection.

She added that training to show local real estate agents and bankers how to access NeighborWorks programs will be offered in the near future.

One difference home buyers might notice — the amount of assistance available will be significantly higher, Robinson said. The Havre program averaged $7,800 in assistance provided. Under the NeighborWorks' program, the maximum allowed is $25,000 or $40,000 for families with individuals who have handicaps.

Robinson said the change is bittersweet — Havre had worked hard to manage its home buyer assistance program, without any problems. Losing control is hard, although the benefit is that the program still will be available, she said.

The city started the program because it believed in the value of home ownership, including its benefits to the economy and in helping provide a stable population.

"The city still believes in that, " Robinson added.



NeighborWorks Montana


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