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County begins efforts to deal with foreclosures

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The county is taking aggressive steps to rehabilitate and sell houses left vacant during the nation's foreclosure crisis. This week, county officials selected five companies that will help administer $9.7 million in federal stimulus money for the purpose of putting foreclosed houses back on the market.

To kick off its efforts, the county will host a Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) Housing Rally Saturday, from 10 a.m., to noon, at the State Farmers Market in Forest Park.

Mickie Williams, the county's NSP program manager, said that earlier this year, the county was awarded $9.7 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) through the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. She said the county, hard-hit by foreclosures, will use the money to purchase no fewer than 83 foreclosed houses, conduct the necessary repairs, and sell them to qualified buyers.

"We're going to be the flame for the new stimulus in Clayton County," Williams said. "When you go into a neighborhood and start rehabbing some houses, what you see is a domino effect ... other developers may want to buy other foreclosed properties in the neighborhood, improve them, and resell them. We are targeting teachers, police officers, firefighters, military, medical personnel, and general employees. Our push is if you work in Clayton, live in Clayton."

According to Williams, on Tuesday, the county approved Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity; Calleiro Brothers, Inc.; National Property Institute, LLC; Renewal Works, and Strategic Holdings Group as the asset managers of the county's NSP program.

Starting in November, the companies will identify and purchase houses in blighted areas, make any necessary repairs, and sell them to qualified buyers who complete a mandatory, eight-hour, housing-counseling course.

Williams said a wide array of people will qualify for homes through the NSP program, due to the fact that HUD has eased rules concerning how much income a potential home buyer can have. "In the past, we were limited with income restraints," Williams said. "This is the first HUD housing program whose income limits exceed 80 percent of area's median income. The NSP eligible income limits are set at 120 percent ... for one person, the maximum income limit is $60,250, and continues by family size up to $113,550 for a family of eight. A high percentage of people in Clayton County would be available for this program."

According to Williams, the county will recover all the money from the sale of any houses in the program, and the proceeds will be recycled back into the NSP program.

"Over the course of the next four-to-five years, that money will probably roll over to $45 million for the county," she said. Williams said the county has 11 months left to commit funding to the first 83 homes in the NSP program.

Steve Teske, president of Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity, said the NSP can serve as a way, not only to restore blighted neighborhoods, but as a way to lift the face of Clayton County.

"The graduation rates have gone up," Teske said. "We now have more schools making AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress). We've had a decrease in juvenile crime. Burglaries over the last year have fallen 50 percent. We have new leadership here. What we want to do is let people know, not just in the county, but particularly outside the county, that this is a good time to buy a home in Clayton County."

To announce the NSP's efforts, the Clayton County Housing and Community Development Office will host an NSP Housing Rally on Saturday morning at the Exhibit Hall of the State Farmers Market. During the event, organizations such as HUD, Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity, the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, Lowe's Home Improvement, the Clayton County Community Services Authority, and the cities of Riverdale, Lovejoy, and Morrow will provide attendees with information about home buying, obtaining a mortgage, purchasing insurance, and foreclosure prevention.

"It's [the housing rally is] to announce that the NSP has begun," Williams said. "We have invited 30 other housing-resource groups to be a part of this rally. We have a multitude of housing resources in Clayton County that people aren't aware of."

Williams said the event will also include a check-passing ceremony of the $9.7 million in NSP funds from Pat Hoban-Moore, acting deputy director for HUD's regional office in Atlanta, to the Clayton County Board of Commissioners.

For more information about the rally, call (770) 477-4512, or visit www.claytonnsp.com.