The Carroll County Bureau of Housing and Community Development has available comprehensive home improvement programs and loans to moderate and low-income countians needing help in buying or fixing up a home.

The services are administered in Carroll County from general fund state tax dollars. The loan programs were created in response to a growing shortage of affordable housing throughout the state and target people with limited incomes.

Depending on the type of loan, amount and the individual's circumstances, interest rates can vary from 7.5 percent down to zero percent, said Jean Swartz, loan underwriting coordinator for the bureau.

"Several loans have an affordability factor built in, so those who couldn't afford a conventional loan could get a loan to enable them tomake the payments, or even defer payments," Swartz said. "The state has done everything they can with the programs to make them affordable."

Available programs include:

* Maryland Mortgage Program: provides below-market interest-rate mortgage loans for the purchase of existing or newly constructed single-family homes. The county bureau acts as an information and counseling source while loans are written at participating lending institutions.

The maximum loan on MMP is $85,000 for a new home and $80,000 for an existing house.

* Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program: assists homeowners who are in dangerof losing their homes due to unforeseen circumstances by providing short-term mortgage loan payments or long-term refinancing of a home.

* Maryland Housing Rehabilitation Program: provides loans to bringproperties up to applicable building codes and standards by repairing any health and safety violations and further home improvements as the home equity and affordability allows.

* Indoor Plumbing Program: offers affordable loans to provide indoor plumbing in residential properties.

* Home and Energy Loan Program: finances rehabilitation, energy conservation and basic livability to owner-occupied dwellings with up to four units.

"There's no income limit for this loan aslong as it is for energy conservation," Swartz said. "Anybody can apply for a HELP loan."

* Residential Lead Paint Abatement Program: provides affordable loans for properties with chipping, peeling, flaking or deteriorated lead-based paint.

Properties must otherwise bestructurally sound and free of any conditions that endanger the health, safety, property or welfare of the occupants.

* Access and Group: offers programs for low-interest financing for construction or acquisition and rehabilitation of a variety of housing types for peoplewith special needs.

"There's a program for everybody in there somewhere," Swartz noted. "When a person comes in we walk them through the entire program and try to give it the local personal touch."

Individuals interested in applying for any of these programs must go tothe Bureau of Housing and Community Development, 125 N. Court St., Westminster.

Swartz checks the applicant's income, debt ratio, how much equity the person has built up in his home and credit rating.

"They have to have good credit to apply for a loan," Swartz said.

Additionally, "For some who are hesitant to go into debt, we might do a little budget work with them to make them more sure of taking theloan," she said.

If you're not sure if you qualify for a low-interest loan, Swartz offers this advice: if you make 80 percent of the median income in Carroll County, you may qualify for a loan in the higher range of 4.5 percent to 7.5 percent.

For interest loans of 4.5percent or less, individuals must make 60 percent or less of the median income. For example, a family of four in the 80 percent median range could have a maximum income of $37,700, Swartz said.

Information: 857-8100.

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