News: Making it 'HIP' to Stay

New loan programs could stem the exodus from Hamilton County

 
Jymi Bolden


Innovative union and county programs will help working families afford houses, according to Alyson Steele, spokeswoman for the Cincinnati AFL-CIO.



The new houses rising in former Warren County cornfields can look awfully tempting to Hamilton County homeowners.

The U.S. Census illustrates the drawing power of suburbia. Hamilton County's population dropped from 866,228 in 1990 to an estimated 835,362 last year.

"We're losing population at a rate faster than every other county except one in the country," says Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune. "I think the primary reasons why people are moving out are school choice and housing choice."

Why would people choose to keep or buy older houses when they can get something new a few miles away?

Help for working families
A new program offering discounted home improvement loans could help stanch the exodus of residents, according to Portune. The Hamilton County Home Improvement Program (HIP) offers loans at 3 percent below the lowest rate a bank would normally offer.

HIP, which Portune modeled on a similar program in Cuyahoga County, received final approval in mid-May.

Hamilton County residents are starting to be touched by the same problems that many thought exclusive to the city of Cincinnati, according to Portune. The county has fewer new houses to offer than the areas surrounding it, such as Warren County, and the newer properties offer amenities that buyers can't find in aging housing stock.

Portune believes HIP offers an important alternative to moving elsewhere.

"When people are looking at the new home in Warren County vs. the older home in an established neighborhood in Hamilton County, they have a means of improving that property so it becomes more attractive," he says.

Unlike most government-subsidized housing initiatives, HIP is not for low-income families only. The program has no income restrictions, but the maximum value for a participating single-family or two-family property is $300,000. No limits apply to multi-family dwellings with three or more units.

HIP represents one of the first efforts to extend such a program to middle-class homeowners — people who are not wealthy but who exceed the income limitations for other housing programs — according to Portune and his assistant, Dave Schaff.

"That's a huge aspect of this program," Schaff says. "There's virtually no strings attached."

Loans can be for $1,500 to $50,000 for a five-year term. Homeowners can use the loans for room additions, landscaping, siding, windows, doors, central air conditioning, furnaces and other home improvements. Participating lenders include Fifth-Third Bank, US Bank, KeyBank, Provident Bank and North Side Bank.

To finance the discounted loans, the county has agreed to take 3 percentage points less on its certificates of deposit. Banks cannot give the county less than a 2-percent rate on the CDs, and the current rate of return is only about 3 percent, so the county is losing only about a 1-percent return.

The county isn't loaning anyone money, so the banks carry the risks of default. If people borrow money and don't use it for home improvements, their interest fees kick up to a higher rate.

Winning county approval for HIP wasn't easy. The concept was first unveiled in March 2001.

"We were told that there was intense partisan Republican pressure in place to hold this up because it was my initiative," Portune says. "In the end, I think it was partisan politics that got it by."

A similar program has now been introduced at the state level. Portune, the only Democrat on the county board, told opponents of HIP that if they couldn't accept the proposal because of all the good things it offered, they could at least look at it from a political viewpoint. Ohio Treasurer Joe Deters, a Republican, is a supporter of the state program and will be the one to administer it.

"How's it going to look when your embattled state treasurer can't open up his program in his home county?" Portune says. "What an embarrassment for him."

Portune says Deters has been supportive of HIP all along. The vote of the board of commissioners approving the program was unanimous.

All Hamilton County areas with the exception of Anderson Township, Arlington Heights, Indian Hill and Newtown are participating in the program.

Unions encouraging homeownership
Union members who want to purchase homes in Hamilton County also have an additional incentive: the Housing Investment Trust (or "HIT Home"), offered by the Cincinnati AFL-CIO.

"Homeownership rates have been an issue in this region for a long time," Portune says. "I think that initiatives like HIT Home, along with the county's new Home Improvement Program, will help reverse our low homeownership rate."

HIT Home, available to members of any union affiliated with the AFL-CIO, offers closing-cost credits for free appraisals and credit reports. It also offers "Working Family Mortgage," automatic electronic deductions to match the payment schedules of individual borrowers, cutting interest costs and more quickly building equity.

HIT Home funds can be used for refinancing mortgages, according to AFL-CIO spokeswoman Alyson Steele. The program is an initiative of the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust, Countrywide Home Loans and the Federal National Mortgage Association ("Fannie Mae").

HIT Home also offers homebuyer education, going over credit reports with borrowers and explaining the process. A seminar has already been completed with laborers in Cincinnati, Steele says.

"A lot of people are closer to getting a house than they think," she says. "We're doing a lot of outreach with our unions to make sure the membership knows that it's available."

Although HIT Home isn't limited to homes in Hamilton County, Steele believes the program could work well with HIP for those interested in living in the county.

"I think of it as we help them buy the house and the county helps them fix it up," she says. "The combination of both of these programs makes homeownership really attractive to union members in Hamilton County. I think HIP and HIT were a good one-two punch for homeownership."



For more information on HIP, contact Kevin Brown at 513-946-4988 or visit the county's Web site at

 
Jymi Bolden


Innovative union and county programs will help working families afford houses, according to Alyson Steele, spokeswoman for the Cincinnati AFL-CIO.



The new houses rising in former Warren County cornfields can look awfully tempting to Hamilton County homeowners.

The U.S. Census illustrates the drawing power of suburbia. Hamilton County's population dropped from 866,228 in 1990 to an estimated 835,362 last year.

"We're losing population at a rate faster than every other county except one in the country," says Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune. "I think the primary reasons why people are moving out are school choice and housing choice."

Why would people choose to keep or buy older houses when they can get something new a few miles away?

Help for working families
A new program offering discounted home improvement loans could help stanch the exodus of residents, according to Portune. The Hamilton County Home Improvement Program (HIP) offers loans at 3 percent below the lowest rate a bank would normally offer.

HIP, which Portune modeled on a similar program in Cuyahoga County, received final approval in mid-May.

Hamilton County residents are starting to be touched by the same problems that many thought exclusive to the city of Cincinnati, according to Portune. The county has fewer new houses to offer than the areas surrounding it, such as Warren County, and the newer properties offer amenities that buyers can't find in aging housing stock.

Portune believes HIP offers an important alternative to moving elsewhere.

"When people are looking at the new home in Warren County vs. the older home in an established neighborhood in Hamilton County, they have a means of improving that property so it becomes more attractive," he says.

Unlike most government-subsidized housing initiatives, HIP is not for low-income families only. The program has no income restrictions, but the maximum value for a participating single-family or two-family property is $300,000. No limits apply to multi-family dwellings with three or more units.

HIP represents one of the first efforts to extend such a program to middle-class homeowners — people who are not wealthy but who exceed the income limitations for other housing programs — according to Portune and his assistant, Dave Schaff.

"That's a huge aspect of this program," Schaff says. "There's virtually no strings attached."

Loans can be for $1,500 to $50,000 for a five-year term. Homeowners can use the loans for room additions, landscaping, siding, windows, doors, central air conditioning, furnaces and other home improvements. Participating lenders include Fifth-Third Bank, US Bank, KeyBank, Provident Bank and North Side Bank.

To finance the discounted loans, the county has agreed to take 3 percentage points less on its certificates of deposit. Banks cannot give the county less than a 2-percent rate on the CDs, and the current rate of return is only about 3 percent, so the county is losing only about a 1-percent return.

The county isn't loaning anyone money, so the banks carry the risks of default. If people borrow money and don't use it for home improvements, their interest fees kick up to a higher rate.

Winning county approval for HIP wasn't easy. The concept was first unveiled in March 2001.

"We were told that there was intense partisan Republican pressure in place to hold this up because it was my initiative," Portune says. "In the end, I think it was partisan politics that got it by."

A similar program has now been introduced at the state level. Portune, the only Democrat on the county board, told opponents of HIP that if they couldn't accept the proposal because of all the good things it offered, they could at least look at it from a political viewpoint. Ohio Treasurer Joe Deters, a Republican, is a supporter of the state program and will be the one to administer it.

"How's it going to look when your embattled state treasurer can't open up his program in his home county?" Portune says. "What an embarrassment for him."

Portune says Deters has been supportive of HIP all along. The vote of the board of commissioners approving the program was unanimous.

All Hamilton County areas with the exception of Anderson Township, Arlington Heights, Indian Hill and Newtown are participating in the program.

Unions encouraging homeownership
Union members who want to purchase homes in Hamilton County also have an additional incentive: the Housing Investment Trust (or "HIT Home"), offered by the Cincinnati AFL-CIO.

"Homeownership rates have been an issue in this region for a long time," Portune says. "I think that initiatives like HIT Home, along with the county's new Home Improvement Program, will help reverse our low homeownership rate."

HIT Home, available to members of any union affiliated with the AFL-CIO, offers closing-cost credits for free appraisals and credit reports. It also offers "Working Family Mortgage," automatic electronic deductions to match the payment schedules of individual borrowers, cutting interest costs and more quickly building equity.

HIT Home funds can be used for refinancing mortgages, according to AFL-CIO spokeswoman Alyson Steele. The program is an initiative of the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust, Countrywide Home Loans and the Federal National Mortgage Association ("Fannie Mae").

HIT Home also offers homebuyer education, going over credit reports with borrowers and explaining the process. A seminar has already been completed with laborers in Cincinnati, Steele says.

"A lot of people are closer to getting a house than they think," she says. "We're doing a lot of outreach with our unions to make sure the membership knows that it's available."

Although HIT Home isn't limited to homes in Hamilton County, Steele believes the program could work well with HIP for those interested in living in the county.

"I think of it as we help them buy the house and the county helps them fix it up," she says. "The combination of both of these programs makes homeownership really attractive to union members in Hamilton County. I think HIP and HIT were a good one-two punch for homeownership."



For more information on HIP, contact Kevin Brown at 513-946-4988 or visit the county's Web site at www.hamilton-co.org. For more information on the HIT Home program, call 1-866-HIT-HOME or visit www.hithome.org.

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