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Housing Counseling Essential for Lake Worth Rebuilding Project
In the residential heart of Lake Worth, nearly 20 percent of homes are in foreclosure or in pre-foreclosure, meaning families are getting uprooted, lawns are going unkempt, and home values have tumbled for those left in the communities.
Fortunately, help is on the way. A consortium of 21 organizations -- including Housing Partnership -- are using a new $23 million federal grant to stabilize the T-shaped neighborhoods of 1,764 homes ringing downtown Lucerne and Lake avenues.
They are buying and refurbishing 130 vacant homes, and attracting homebuyers who will take pride in their new properties. Housing Partnership’s role is to counsel prospective homeowners on the skills they need to buy and stay in their homes. Counselors are teaching homebuyers the importance of budgeting, maintaining their homes, paying their bills on time, and generally making sure they won’t be in over their heads when they move in.
The agency is also providing special mortgages. “What counseling does is assist people to buy homes they can afford,” said Bonnie Conrad, housing services division director for Community Partnership Group, which consists of Housing Partnership and Parent-Child Center. “It helps them understand their obligations as homeowners.” Housing Partnership offers affordable housing and community living services for low to moderate income families and to individuals with special needs. The Riviera Beach-based agency has provided more than 1,000 clients with every service they needed to buy a home. Housing counseling is a proven way for homebuyers to avoid foreclosure, experts say.
Troubled homeowners who receive housing counseling are 60 percent more likely to avoid foreclosure and have their mortgage payments lowered significantly than borrowers who navigate the process themselves, according to a recent study by D.C.-based Urban Institute. For the ambitious Lake Worth project, attracting homebuyers counseled by Housing Partnership is essential for rebounding the foreclosure-damaged neighborhoods, said Suzanne Cabrera, Executive Director of the Housing Leadership Council of Palm Beach County. Mrs. Cabrera coordinated the application for the U.S. Housing and Urban Development grant and assisted the Lake Worth Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) to organize the consortium of government agencies, nonprofits, and contractors. “We need to make sure we have homeowners who can stay in these neighborhoods,” Cabrera said.
Here’s how the project is set up: Lake Worth CRA is buying 130 foreclosed houses and transferring most of the properties to Adopt-a-Family and Habitat for Humanity. Seventy-five homes will be sold to first time homebuyers and twenty-five will provide affordable rental housing. Thirty Homes will be land banked by Habitat for Humanity to be sold over the next ten years. Housing Partnership is providing housing counseling and special mortgages to qualified homebuyers, with priority given to law enforcement officers and artists. “Our goal is to take vacant homes that bring down the neighborhoods and fill them with families who will bring the neighborhoods back up,” Conrad said.
Leon Fooksman is a journalist who writes for Community Partnership Group. He can be reached at email@example.com.