Clayton observes 'National Home Ownership Month'

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

Clayton County officials are hoping to use this month as an opportunity to educate people on how to become, and stay, homeowners in the face of an ongoing foreclosure problem, according to the director of the county's housing program.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has designated June as National Home Ownership Month, and Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell issued a proclamation on Tuesday, to formally observe home ownership in the county.

"Clayton County is very serious about combating the foreclosure problem and developing a strong, and varied housing market once again in the county," Bell's proclamation states.

Lance Crawford, the director of the Clayton County Housing and Community Development program, said the county wants to use the month to bring attention to home ownership issues. He said the county has lately been averaging nearly 900 foreclosures per month, with a total of approximately 13,000 foreclosure filings in the county, over the last two years.

"It's [the proclamation] to promote home ownership," Crawford said. "We've got a great interest in home ownership because, historically, it stabilizes neighborhoods. And, through this proclamation, we're just re-educating people of the importance of home ownership.

"Of course, we're faced with a significant problem right now, with foreclosures in our county, and we are attempting, through a number of programs, to turn that around."

Crawford said the county has worked to fight foreclosures in the county through several efforts, with the most notable being the creation of the county's Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which was established in 2009 with a $9.7 million HUD grant. That office just held its first-ever county-wide housing fair last Saturday.

"That program, essentially through four asset managers that we have contracts with ... they purchase properties, and they rehabilitate them, and then they market and sell those properties," the housing and community development director said.

Crawford added that, to date, the county has purchased 130 houses through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, and either sold, or have contracted to sell 80 of them to potential homeowners. He said potential homeowners have to go through at least 12 hours of home ownership counseling before they can move into one of the rehabilitated homes.

"There's a lot of benefits to home ownership, but there's also a lot of potential pitfalls if people — particularly first-time home buyers — are not familiar with what they are getting themselves into," Crawford said. "And, of course, once you get into the house, you have to maintain it. A lot of people come from a rental background, and didn't have to do that."