City Council Passes Housing Downpayment Assistance (DPA) For Qualified Applicants

By Leslee Kulba- Asheville City Council enjoyed another brief meeting, which lasted only about 45 minutes. Nobody showed up to comment on the city’s housing down payment assistance (DPA) policy.

It was presented two weeks ago as needing to return to return to staff for clarification and presented this week for ratification as already having been discussed.

The measure passed unanimously, Housing Development Specialist Paul D’Angelo being unaware of any government agencies having similar programs.

To recap and clarify, the city will be making available $1 million of $25 million in referendum-approved Housing Bond proceeds for DPA. Qualified applicants would be earning no more than 80% of Area Median Income (AMI). Half the funds would be available to persons earning below 60% of AMI.

The Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta will further be making available $100,000, with a $300,000 match from the city, for City of Asheville and Asheville City Schools employees earning between 80% and 120% of AMI.
Loans must be for single-family homes, within the city limits, that will serve as the buyer’s primary residence.

Adding insult to injury, city staff used for their example a $200,000 home, insinuating beneficiaries wouldn’t be saddling future generations with debt for one of those stigma-laden $60,000 homes inhabited by taxpayers with private-sector jobs.

Buyers must not have owned a home for the last three years. They will be required to put up $1,000 of their own money, which may be applied to principal as well as closing costs, and they must “participate” in a homebuyer education course approved by HUD and their lender. The loans will be underwritten internally by the city, and D’Angelo said the plan is a living document so it can change as-needed.

DPA loans will be at-minimum $5,000 and capped at $25,000, $35,000, and $40,000, depending on income bracket. They are zero-interest and forgivable after 30 years, and homebuyers will make no monthly payments. The loan is transferrable, but if it isn’t transferred and the house sells in less than 30 years, the full amount of the loan, increased proportionately to the appreciation of the home over the term of the loan, will be returned to the city’s revolving loan fund. If the owner sells the house after 20 years but before 30 years of residence, the loan appreciation will be discounted 10% for each year of residence over 20 years.

Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler asked a few questions, and Councilor Julie Mayfield thanked D’Angelo for resolving what seemed at first a “messy” process. She said he had, “led this ship through really complicated waters.”
Mayfield said friends and neighbors had already been calling her wanting to know how to sign up. But to thwart claims that this, like government housing programs elsewhere, would be a friends and family plan, the city is working with an advertising firm, placing articles with news outlets, holding public information meetings, and issuing press releases about the program.

“Please come!” said Mayfield, “Come! Get this money! We want to spend it, and we want to put people in houses.”

In Other Business –
Interim Assistant Planning and Urban Design Director Steph Monson Dahl presented for adoption a Tree & Riparian Enhancement Plan for the RADTIP (River Arts District Transportation Improvement Project), which was unanimously adopted. The plan was funded by a grant from the Duke Water Resources Foundation, and it identified $485,000 in projects, which include “stream buffer improvements, stream and stormwater enhancements, pollinator improvements, invasive management, art and education, and habitat structures on city-owned property.”

In past years, the city received a $14.6 million federal TIGER VI grant and $2.5 million from the Tourism Development Authority that, with $26 million from the city, would refurbish 2.2 miles of the River Arts District. The plan included road redesigns with parking, bike lanes and racks, greenways, green spaces, wetlands, stormwater infrastructure, and a boat launch. But after increasing its contribution by $6 million, the city found it needed another $20 million to meet the lowest bidder. The project was scaled back.

Now, Monson-Dahl was saying community organizations were scrambling to volunteer to complete the RADTIP vision. The projects identified were already generally approved via council in various other plans, and any approval of the plan would be nonbinding; staff merely formalized a list to help groups plug in. Already, groups like Asheville GreenWorks, MountainTrue, RiverLink, and UNC Asheville were collaborating to paint a mural on the Bowen Bridge and install additional public art. They were also assembling funds to create three pollinator parks.

Monson-Dahl expected all activities, except for two riverbank improvement projects estimated at $78,000 and $242,000, could be funded without allocations from the city. She also said numerous grants for water quality improvement were available from state, federal, and private funds to help the city pay its part. Costs could even be spread over a ten-year capital improvement plan.

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