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County to begin homebuying blitz

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

In April of 2009, Clayton County was awarded $9.7 million in stimulus funding through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to stabilize neighborhoods, by purchasing and rehabilitating foreclosed houses.

With the Sept. 4 deadline to obligate the funds rapidly approaching, the county's Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) still has $5,760,000 it needs to spend. In order to fully maximize the funds, the county has set out to buy at least 65 foreclosed, or at-risk homes, before the deadline. With HUD recently relaxing it's purchasing rules, the county is giving builders and banks with troubled housing assets a chance to liquidate their stock.

"It [the HUD funding] was to acquire foreclosed properties, rehab those properties, and to provide mortgage assistance to resell those properties," said Clayton County NSP Manager Mickie Williams. "HUD has just changed its rules to allow us to purchase homes that are in danger of foreclosure. That includes short-sale and deed-in-lieu-of foreclosure. We've been able to do that for 30 days. Prior to that, we had to wait until the home went into foreclosure.

"If there are builders that have had to walk away from their property, for whatever reason, they should let us know about it and we can contact the bank," she added.

Clayton County got a late start in utilizing NSP funds, according to Williams, because of the county's failure to put asset-management teams into place until January of this year. She said the county's NSP program purchased it's first properties on March 1, but since then, has been able to acquire 37 homes.

Williams said all of the houses purchased through the NSP program are refurbished, if necessary, and then resold to qualified owners. She said the program also offers downpayment assistance to buyers.

"Because Clayton homes are so affordable, we have investors coming in from all over the country trying to buy these homes and turn them into rental properties," Williams said. "We would like to see Clayton County go owner-occupied. We feel like there is more of a commitment from the families involved. None of the [NSP] homes will be sold to investors, they will all be owner-occupiers living in these houses."

David Barton, president of the Metro South Association of Realtors, said realtors, sellers and buyers all have reasons to be excited about the county's home-buying blitz. He said the houses sold by the Clayton County NSP are some of the most well-priced on the market, and buyers will have to do little, once the homes are acquired.

"These are the best-priced homes that we've seen in the industry," Barton said. "It's a lot of square feet for a very affordable price, without any repairs having to be done to them. It's almost like having a new home, or a home that has been completely refurbished.

"With the programs they have in place [such as mortgage assistance], the realtors are just as excited," he continued. "We're hoping that the buyers see the benefit of these programs. It helps build stability for the neighborhood and it builds wealth for the individual."

Williams said houses to be purchased by the NSP must be single-family homes built after 1980, be vacant or owner-occupied, meet HUD environmental compliance, and preferably be connected to the county's water and sewer system. She said the program can usually determine if a home meets selling requirements in 48 hours.

Anyone can purchase NSP homes, as long as they make 120 percent, or less, of the area median income, Williams said. That amounts to an annual salary of $60,360, or less, for a single person; $86,160, or less, for a family of four; and $113,760, or less, for a family of eight, she said.

"We sent out e-mails to over 1,500 real estate agents last week, who work in Clayton County," Williams said. "We have to buy 65 more over the next three months. If we don't, HUD will recall that money. When we spend that money, we will also be in line to receive additional money from HUD."

For more information about the NSP program, call (770) 477-4512.