City bolstering home-ownership dreams

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Although the size and elongated shape of Covington make the details of this map difficult to read, the dots (color-coded by year) show how awards under the Homebuyer Assistance Program have been allocated in virtually every neighborhood.

$$$ awards to increase in down payment program used

in neighborhoods across Covington
 
COVINGTON, Ky. - Like twinkling Christmas tree lights, the color-coded dots are spread across a map of Covington, from the Ohio River to the north all the way south, one dot lodged directly on the Covington-Independence border.
 
In the far northwest, the tiny Botany Hills neighborhood has six dots. South Covington has 36. And in Covington’s geographic middle, the Austinburg neighborhood has 25 and Latonia, 127.
 
Each dot - there are 301 of them total - represents a home purchased in the last six years by a Covington family with financial help from the City.
 
But to John David Hammons, who coordinates the Homebuyer Assistance Program for Covington, the dots represent much more: Fulfilled dreams.
 
“What with a down payment and closing costs, many of the families we help would have to wait a long time to build up their savings before they could afford a home,” Hammons said. “But the City helps them buy their home much sooner.”
 
Hammons created the map to show the Covington Board of Commissioners the effectiveness of the program and build support for a major change: Increasing the maximum assistance for buyers from $5,000 to $7,500.
 
On Tuesday night, the Commission agreed to put the proposed increase on its consent agenda for next Tuesday when it approves the Homebuyer Assistance Program’s 2020-21 guidelines.
 
“This program has an incredible story,” Mayor Joe Meyer said. “Essentially every week for the last six years, the City has helped a Covington family afford a new home, for many of them their very first. And as the map demonstrates clearly, we’ve done it in neighborhoods across the city.”
 
How it works
Funded by the federal HOME program, the City’s program has a clear goal: Increase homeownership.
 
Applicants who meet income and credit requirements are given a five-year loan of up to $7,500 to be used toward a down payment, closing costs, settlement charges, and/or to “buy down” the interest rate on the primary mortgage.
 
The interest on the City’s loan is 0 percent and payback is deferred. If the buyer lives in the house as their principal residence for five years, it’s completely forgiven.
 
Applicants also complete a homebuyer education class to prepare them for the buying process and understand the long-term costs of owning a home.
 
Why the increase
The increase to $7,500 reflects changes in the federal program and the housing market itself over the last few years, Hammons said. HUD has raised the maximum income level under which applicants are eligible, and the average cost of houses has drastically increased across the board, he said.

“The City is responding to the facts on the ground - due to the booming housing market, homes are getting harder to afford for the low- to moderate-income families this program was designed to help,” Hammons said. “By increasing the award, we can help them buy down their interest rate or put more money down, which helps create long-term affordability.”
 
The program was averaging almost 60 forgivable loans a fiscal year before the pandemic hit, Hammons said.
 
“Now’s a great time to buy with extremely low interest rates,” he said.
 
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For more information about the program or to start an application, contact John David Hammons at jhammons@covingtonky.gov or (859) 292-2105.
 
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