BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — With the aim of helping qualified families become homeowners, the city held a free workshop “Kickoff 2016: The year of Home Ownership in St. Petersburg” Sat., Jan. 30 at the St. Pete campus of Pinellas Technical College. Presented in partnership with Neighborhood Home Solutions and the Tampa Bay Community Development Corporation, the program covered an overview of the home buying process with topics including purchase assistance and how to qualify for a loan.
Director of Urban Affairs
Nikki Gaskin-Capehart, director of Urban Affairs the city, told the prospective homebuyers that home ownership is an effective way of reducing poverty in the city, adding that home ownership is a very important part of building wealth.
“We want to make sure that we empower you and you empower others through knowledge and information about how to become an effective home owner,” Gaskin-Capehart said.
Councilman Karl Nurse echoed Gaskin-Capehart’s remarks by stating that the base of building wealth is home ownership. The average rent in south St. Pete is $800 per month, Nurse pointed out, while the monthly payment for a $100,000 mortgage is $473. Virtually all those renting in south St. Pete could be hundreds of dollars ahead if they could become homeowners, he said.
Noting that the banks have made it more difficult and “paperwork intensive” for those interested in acquiring loans to buy a home, he said it is important for the city to help homeownership nonprofits, so that the nonprofits can in turn help people maneuver through the difficulties. He encouraged people not to give up in the pursuit of owning a home.
“You can get into a home for less than what you’re paying in rent,” Nurse stated, “and begin a path that leads to a better tomorrow.”
Nurse read a proclamation from Mayor Rick Kriseman stating that the city is committed to increasing and sustaining the level of home ownership within the city by providing services through its housing and community development department, such as purchase assistance loans, homes for sale, home repair and emergency loan repairs.
Linda Byars, city of St. Pete housing and finance coordinator, noted that the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development offers, through state partnerships, numerous programs and loans to help current homeowners and also those who are moving forward to home ownership, particularly with assistance of down payments and closing costs.
“Let’s say you buy a $100,000 house,” she said, “we will provide ten percent down — that’s $10,000 — and an additional four to five thousand dollars to assist you with the closing costs,” adding that this loan is at zero percent.
The Department of Housing and Community Development also provides programs and loans for current homeowners as well, Byars said, for things like housing rehabilitation, which helps lower income folks who need home repairs and can’t afford them. These can include roof repairs, electrical hazards, plumbing and sanitation issues and even ramps and other special construction projects for disabled residents.
Roberta Bell of NHS said it is important to take steps to realize financial goals, which are necessary to owning and maintaining a home. Home ownership counselors at NHS and TBCDC hold financial literacy classes and counseling sessions to provide assistance and advice. Purchasing a credit report will be the only cost, she said. Designing a budget is part of the program, to monitor daily spending and money management.
Bell noted that lenders always consider the four “C”s of credit—capital, capacity, collateral and your character.
“Character always goes back to your credit report,” she stated. “How well you pay your expenses. Do you not pay every month? Do you have delinquent payments? That’s your character.”
She addressed the barriers to financial success, like not having enough savings, too much debt and lack of a financial plan. Putting something aside from your savings on a weekly basis and make sound financial choices based on what you need and not what you want, she underscored.
“Make choices that your budget can support,” she stated. “Pay your bills first, then whatever’s remaining can be applied to your savings and to what you need. You don’t want to deny yourself all the time you have a budget because you won’t stick to it. So you do have to do things for yourself, but you have to pay your bills first.”
Carrie Vitale, Vice President of TBCDC, said its agencies do a lot more than helping people purchase homes.
“We love it when people get the keys to their home, when they close, when they send us pictures of them in front of their home—that’s the best thing,” Vitale said. “But we see the other side of the coin, unfortunately, which is people who are losing their home.”
The majority of people that come to the TBCDC for foreclosure counseling are not necessarily people who have lost their jobs or had a medical illness or other crisis in their lives, she said, but people who have purchased homes with mortgages they couldn’t afford and that they didn’t fully understand.
“People always tell us, ‘Boy, I wish I knew about these programs before!’” she commented, referring to the TBCDC home buying classes.
If you missed last week’s seminar, don’t worry. You can call NHS at (727) 821-6897 or visit them on the web at email@example.com to start the process of becoming a homeowner in 2016.
To reach Frank Drouzas, email firstname.lastname@example.org