Easing housing costs for teachers, police

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Click here to enlarge this photo
Staff photo by GARY SMITH
Judy Brown, left, of the Educational Systems Credit Union talks with teachers Carol Ann Smith and Beth Degges at an affordable housing fair for Charles County school system staff and Charles County government employees earlier this month at North Point High School.

Two housing programs designed for teachers and law enforcement officers are giving local workers an affordable home they can call their own.

One program offers teachers and law officers half-price homes and another provides down payment and closing costs assistance.

‘‘I haven’t seen a house yet I can afford,” said Beth Degges, a Spanish teacher at Westlake High School, who has been looking into buying a home in Charles County for about a year and a half.

But thanks to a recent Affordable Housing Fair at North Point High School, Degges now is clued in to House Keys 4 Employees and the Teacher Next Door programs that can help her get that extra financial bump she needs to make the transition from renting to owning.

The average home in Charles County sold for $311,000 in January, but several local real estate agents estimated a teacher looking to buy a home with their single income would have difficulty getting financing for much more than a $200,000 home.

‘‘If you’re looking at a starting salary [for teachers] in the $40,000s it would be very hard to get them the financing for a home much above $200,000,” said Stuart Bowling, director of technology and new business development for the Southern Maryland Association of Realtors. ‘‘You are only supposed to put people in a situation where they will be able to pay their mortgage.”

While there are homes in the county in the lower $200,000s, Bowling said those homes ‘‘are snatched up quickly by investors” to renovate and turn a profit or to rent.

Though, ‘‘it’s not impossible, it’s not as easy as you would think to find a house in that price range,” he said.

Jackie Fulton, a special education teacher at Westlake High School, plans to buy a home and rent the extra rooms to other teachers so that she can afford to own a home in the county.

‘‘I am sick of renting. I may as well put my money into something that is mine,” she said, mentioning her soon-to-be $2,400 monthly mortgage payment is not feasible for her to pay alone on a teacher’s salary.

And Fulton is confident finding roommates will not be difficult.

‘‘It won’t be hard to find other teachers who need cheap rent to move in with me,” she said.

At the housing fair March 13, about 75 teachers and police officers, along with their spouses or financial advisers – also known as mom and dad – showed up to talk one-on-one with Realtors, title companies and financial institutions about buying a home.

Introduced to several potential homeowners was the Good Neighbor Next Door federal program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Through the program teachers and local emergency services and law enforcement personnel are offered a half-price home when the original homeowner defaults on a Federal Housing Administration loan.

Translation: the two-story, four-bedroom home on Piedmont Drive in Cobb Island for sale for $336,800, is available to teachers for the bargain price of $168,400.

While this is the only half-price property currently available in the county, Karen Pfeil of Nationwide Mortgage said she foresees more to come.

‘‘I think we are going to see a whole lot more as there starts to be more and more foreclosures,” she said.

Another housing assistance program available for Charles County public school employees and Charles County government workers is the House Keys 4 Employees program.

In addition to the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development’s matching up to $5,000 toward a down payment and closing costs for these workers, Charles County government offers a $5,000 loan with 0 percent interest, repayable at the time of payoff, refinance or sale of the home. An additional $5,000 could also become available from the state if the teacher or government worker decides to buy a home within 10 miles of the place of their employment.

Translation: A teacher who initially only had a $5,000 down payment could have up to $20,000 to put toward their home.

Since House Keys 4 Employees inception earlier this year, five people employed by the Charles County school system who have applied for the $5,000, 0 percent interest loan.

Beth Thorson, a recruitment and retention teacher, said getting teachers in homes is a way to guarantee these teachers will stay with the school system.

‘‘We see it as a retention issue. In order to become a part of the community they need to buy a home,” she said.