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Maryland cabinet official touts home-buying program

November 19, 2005|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

HALFWAY - A new state program gives prospective homeowners up to $15,000 toward down payment and closing costs, a Maryland cabinet official said Friday.

The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development unveiled the House Keys 4 Employees program last month, Secretary Victor Hoskins said.

The state will give a grant or loan of up to $5,000 to start.

Then, through a 0-percent deferred loan, the state will match up to $5,000 contributed by the home buyer's employer. So, a home buyer could get $5,000 from an employer and a total of $10,000 from the state.

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Hoskins spoke Friday at a meeting of the Maryland Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives at Country Inn & Suites, near Valley Mall.

Hoskins also publicized the state's More House 4 Less mortgage program, which has 12 financing options.

The housing assistance programs could be helpful in Washington County, where officials say the availability of workforce housing is a growing issue as home values rise.

The median house price rose from $176,000 in 2004 to $240,000 this year, according to a task force studying the issue for the county.

Brien Poffenberger, the president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, which hosted Friday's meeting, said local officials recognize the new problem.

"It's only the last 18 months that the middle tier can't afford to live in their community," Poffenberger said.

The term "workforce housing" has been used to describe people in the middle-class salary range. "Affordable housing," by comparison, usually refers to a lower economic class.

The More House 4 Less program offers four choices apiece for 30-, 35- and 40-year mortgages.

Poffenberger said the program's guidelines are noteworthy.

In "targeted" parts of Washington County, including Hagerstown, a household of three or more people is eligible if its annual income is no more than $105,350, he said.

The cutoff for "nontargeted" parts of the county, where residents have higher incomes, is $86,537 for the same family size.

Hoskins said the state updates the maximum house purchase price so it's in line with the market. The maximum price now is $390,500 in targeted parts of Washington County and $319,500 in nontargeted parts.

The county's workforce housing task force recommended the state's programs in a report at the end of October, Chairman Richard Willson said Friday afternoon.

Willson, the executive director of the Washington County Housing Authority, said $15,000 is "nothing to sneeze at" for someone buying a house.

"The city of Hagerstown" - which also is starting to look at workforce housing - "should use it as a way to increase homeownership in the city," Poffenberger said.

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