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Housing group faces a shortage of homes

June 06, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Mid-Atlantic Coalition for Housing Opportunities Inc. (MACHO) has an excellent track record at securing state funding for low- and moderate-income housing, but faces an unusual situation, according to Jo Willard, the organization's housing counselor.

"I have a problem I've never had before," Willard told the Franklin County Board of Commissioners this week. "I don't have any houses left."

Eight townhouses in the 16-unit Picadilly Circle II have been started, but constant rains have slowed construction, according to Doris Thrailkill, the executive secretary for MACHO. Once completed, they will not remain vacant long because more than a dozen families and individuals have been pre-approved to buy them.

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"On my own income - I'm a single person - I never would have been able to buy a home," said Crystal Smith, who moved into a house on Picadilly Circle four months ago. A supervisor at National Book Network in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., she said a conventional mortgage seemed out of reach.

"They need to see a lot of money coming in up front," Smith said of some lenders. An advertisement for MACHO caught her eye last year because no down payment was required, something she figured it would be difficult to save for.

Willard and Thrailkill met with the commissioners this week to get funding for Picadilly Circle III, another 17-unit project in the Sheffield Manor development in Washington Township. The board agreed to provide $48,875 from the county's Affordable Housing Trust Fund to pay for water and sewer tap fees, if MACHO's application for $550,000 in state funding is approved.

Pennsylvania's Home Investment Purchasing Program is a competitive grant program, but MACHO successfully has applied five times for more than $2.6 million since the nonprofit housing corporation was formed in 1996. This year, about $29 million is available statewide, according to Phil Wolgemuth of the Franklin County Planning Department.

An additional $1.36 million in mortgage financing will come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Thrailkill said Thursday. MACHO also has applied to the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh for $151,000 to pay for utility construction and closing cost assistance, bringing the total cost of Picadilly Circle III to about $2 million.

Fifty houses have been built and sold in the Kings Row I, II and III sections and Picadilly Circle I, Thrailkill said. The completion of Picadilly Circle II and III will bring the total to 83.

What first-time homebuyers like Smith get is a two- or three-bedroom, 1,080-square-foot townhouse for $90,000. Approved buyers also get a $16,000 grant toward the purchase, half of which is forgiven if they remain in the home for 10 years.

"When they sell the home, or pay it off, it goes back to the county trust fund" to help other first-time homebuyers, Thrailkill said of the balance of the $16,000.

That brings the cost down to $74,000, making monthly payments about $370, less expensive than most rental housing in the Waynesboro area, Willard said.

"I think it's more affordable. Very much so," Smith said. "I think it's very good for young couples or single mothers."

"There is no money down and their closing costs are paid by MACHO," Willard said.

Since it started the project, MACHO has received almost 600 applications from prospective homeowners.

Funding for the county's housing trust fund comes from fees charged to register deeds and mortgages with the Register and Recorder's Office.

A number of other nonprofit housing programs benefit from the fund, as well as the county's own housing rehabilitation program to help low-income homeowners renovate their houses, according to Wolgemuth.

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