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Help is available for those who want to buy houses

September 14, 2007

There are several government-funded programs to help prospective home buyers in Hagerstown.

The City of Hagerstown runs the Single-Family Homeownership Program and a program for professionally employed people who rent or are buying homes within a two-block radius of Public Square. Both programs are paid for with federal grants administered by the city.

There also is the Hagerstown Home Store, a privately run operation that receives most of its funding from federal grants administered by the city.

· Single-Family Homeownership Program

Those who meet certain income guidelines might qualify to purchase a home the city has bought and renovated. Since 1992, about 95 homes have been sold through this program.

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Income limits for program participants are on a sliding scale. For example, the maximum income level for a household of two is $41,050; for a family of four, it is $51,300; and for a single-person household, it is $35,900.

· Downtown Residency Initiative Program

The city's Downtown Residency Initiative Program provides economic assistance for professionals and other qualifying people who live within about two blocks of Public Square.

Home buyers can receive up to $1,500 toward the purchase, and renters can receive up to $1,200 per year through the program. There are no income limits.

Other eligible parties include people who have graduated from college within the last year; people who have been discharged from the military within the last year; permanent local, state and federal employees; students and employees of the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown campus; and residents who have had no criminal convictions in the past two years.

For information on either program, call the Department of Community Development at 301-739-8577, ext. 136.

· Hagerstown Home Store

The Hagerstown Home Store, which opened in January 1999, is a source of information and financial guidance for prospective home buyers.

The Home Store is operated by the nonprofit Hag-erstown Neighborhood Development Partnership. Most of its services are free and available to anyone.

In 2006, about 500 people attended twice-monthly workshops at the store at 21 E. Franklin St. in Hagerstown.

The workshops are the first stop for people who want to buy a house. Lending, real estate and home insurance professionals volunteer for each workshop, which also features a video on the home-buying process.

Those who choose to continue working with the Home Store meet with housing adviser Barb Spielman for financial counseling. Spielman reviews an applicant's finances to determine how much he or she can afford to pay for a home.

More than 2,000 clients have participated in pre-purchase counseling workshops, and more than 1,000 homes have been purchased by approved applicants.

The service is confidential, available to anyone and free except for a $16 fee for a credit report used by Spielman to examine a prospective home buyer's finances.

For information about the Home Store or other programs that assist with buying a home, call the Home Store at 301-797-0900 or go to www.hagerstownhomestore.org.

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