Home prices hitting St. Lawrence Co. program

Photo courtesy of Pavel Danilhyuk/Pexels

CANTON — It’s getting difficult to find low- and moderate-income housing because the asking price for homes is too high.

That’s according to John F. Tenbusch, a planner with the St. Lawrence County Planning Office and a member of the St. Lawrence County Fair Housing Task Force.

He told task force members that they had met with the St. Lawrence County Housing Council and one of the topics of discussion was the county’s Direct Homeownership Assistance Program.

“Those of you who have been familiar with the county planning office know that has been our bread-and-butter program for 30 years,” Mr. Tenbusch said.

DHAP is designed to assist low- and moderate-income households to purchase existing homes by providing a down payment on the mortgage, payment of most closing costs and assistance as needed to rehabilitate the housing unit to ensure that it meets code and Housing Quality Standards under the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development.

But, it’s proving difficult to find homes that fall within the limits of the program.

“They can’t get a client into a house these days because of the way the markets have been distorted by COVID,” Mr. Tenbusch said. “It’s a hot market right now, so our lower income people cannot find houses.”

He said the program has an upper limit of $90,000, but they’ve been known to go as high as $95,000 or, in some cases, higher.

“We want to put someone into a house, but they can’t find them,” he said. “They’re being outbid all the time.”

The county had applied in April 2019 for $550,000 through the state Community Development Block Grant Program to fund the 23rd round of its DHAP. The application was successful, and the county was awarded $550,000 in July 2019. It included $452,659 for homeownership assistance and rehabilitation activities; $69,841 for program delivery; and $27,500 for administration.

A grant agreement was signed, effective June 27, 2019, that stipulated that all funds must be expended within 24 months, which was June 28, 2021. The agreement anticipated that 17 households would be assisted.

Mr. Tenbusch said they’ve always been able to finish off a grant for the program in the past, but this has been a challenging time. They received one six-month extension, he said, “and we’re looking at the possibility of having to ask for another.”

The county Planning Office has administered CDBG-funded housing programs since 1982, all benefiting low- or moderate-income persons.

In a May report for a public hearing, county officials said that since receiving CDBG funds, they have obtained 24 grants to do homeownership assistance. These programs had enabled 625 low- to moderate-income households to purchase homes. They’ve also obtained 30 grants to rehabilitate substandard units. Those programs had helped 638 low- to moderate-income households to improve their living conditions.

The county’s CDBG housing programs have assisted more than 1,260 low- to moderate-income households. They said that equals approximately 3,100 low- to moderate-income persons.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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