Baltimore joins program on affordable housing


WASHINGTON -- Twelve cities, including Baltimore, have been added to a growing list of demonstration sites for affordable-housing programs developed through a joint effort by the National Association of Realtors and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

The additional demonstration cities were announced here last week during NAR's 1992 Housing Needs Symposium, held by the association's Committee on Housing Needs. Chosen by NAR and USCM, the cities, in addition to Baltimore, are: Trenton, N.J.; Springfield, Mass.; New Orleans; Little Rock, Ark.; Richmond, Va.; Aurora, Ill.; Ft. Wayne, Ind.; St. Louis; Denver; Cheyenne, Wyo.; and Mesa, Ariz. Through the NAR-USCM housing initiative, the local board of Realtors and the mayor's office in each community have pledged to work together on a program tailored to address local housing problems.

Selection of the cities was based mainly on geographic and economic diversity, the need for affordable housing, and the willingness of the board of Realtors and the mayor's office to work together.

The first wave of demonstration programs resulting from the NAR-USCM partnership was announced a year ago at NAR's 1991 Housing Needs Symposium. At that time, pilot projects were launched in 11 communities. The drive to foster public-private collaboration on affordable-housing programs has accelerated, resulting in this year's follow-up announcement of more demonstration sites, according to NAR President Dorcas T. Helfant. "The momentum is going strong. This definitely is not a flash-in-the-pan promotion," Ms. Helfant said.

Despite low mortgage rates, buyers are "falling through the cracks," she said. "Low rates don't solve all housing problems. These local programs tackle a wide range of obstacles to homeownership."

Preliminary results of an NAR survey of homebuyers and renters underscore the need for more programs to help renters buy houses, said Alan Yassky, chair of NAR's Housing Needs Committee.

According to the forthcoming study, renters are less likely to be satisfied with their current residences than homeowners. Nearly half the respondents cited the inability to afford a home as the primary reason for renting. Three-quarters of the renters who would like to own said they are prepared to make substantial sacrifices to buy a home.

"The people who think they can't buy are the people who are helped by these local housing programs," Yassky said. "They comprise a market that certainly is worth tapping. If we help them become first-time buyers now, they will be second-time buyers in a few years," he said.

Like the 1991 selections, the 1992 Realtor-mayor programs likely will include such initiatives as low-income homeownership, unit rehabilitation, lease purchasing arrangements, or homeownership counseling. The decisions on choosing, creating and maintaining a housing initiative will be left to the boards of Realtors and the mayors in the demonstration communities.

"Neither NAR nor USCM is in a position to tell our members how to run their programs. Our role is that of a catalyst, to bring these groups together and provide them with the tools necessary to develop affordable housing," Mr. Yassky said.

At each demonstration site, the board of Realtors and the mayor's office will work together to seek support from lenders, non-profit and for-profit developers, and other members of the business community, as well as local housing, economic FTC development and zoning agencies. For instance, their efforts might involve obtaining below- market mortgages or securing density bonuses.

Programs in each of the 1991 demonstration cities have made progress. They include participation with Habitat for Humanity International to build affordable homes, the creation of a revolving loan fund to provide down-payment and closing-cost aid, and the donation of grants to homeless-assistance projects. The success of the 1991 programs has set an example for other localities, said Janet Scavo, chair of the Housing Needs Symposium.

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