Affordable Housing Partnership Housing Counseling Program

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1 Affordable Housing Partnership Housing Counseling Program ORGANIZATION AND STAFF INFORMATION Name of Organization: Affordable Housing Partnership of the Capital Region Inc. 255 Orange Street Albany, New York Executive Director: Susan Cotner Telephone and fax numbers telephone #: fax #: Susan Cotner: Federal Tax ID Number: Goals of Counseling Program The Affordable Housing Partnership provides assistance to first time home buyers and existing homeowners in the Capital District of New York, with a focus on serving families from the city of Albany. Historically, 80% of the households we serve earn less than 80% of median income, and 50% of the households we serve are non-white. Our counseling program goals include: Improve the financial health and stability of families through credit and budget counseling and financial literacy education. The increased wealth and financial stability of families leads to more sustainable neighborhoods. Counsel and educate families in the purchase of their first home to enable them to build wealth through homeownership. Counsel and educate homeowners so that they protect their equity and make good financial decisions by: avoiding predatory lenders; choosing the best mortgage refinance option; hiring good contractors and making wise repair investments in their home. Assist homeowners and help stabilize neighborhoods by providing mortgage default and foreclosure prevention counseling and education. Help stabilize neighborhoods by promoting and maintaining homeownership through securing and providing down payment and home repair resources that benefit low Affordable Housing Partnership page 1

2 income homebuyers and owners in urban neighborhoods Promote smart growth through a partnership with the Capital District Transportation Authority (CDTA) to encourage housing choices close to existing transit routes. CDTA provides two years of two free bus passes to first time homebuyers. Promote affordable homeownership through education about environmental issues with housing, such as lead, mold, asbestos, weatherization, etc. Homebuyers in Albany are referred to the City of Albany s lead abatement program as well as to the weatherization programs available through local agencies as well as NYSERDA. Partner and collaborate with other community based institutions through the Community Development Alliance of the Capital District. An inaugural project is with SUNY Albany s Planning Department to study the neighborhood surrounding our offices. This initial project with SUNY Albany will assist us by giving us a baseline of the economic and social indicators of the neighborhood; provide specifics about how our housing programs need to be adjusted to support re-development; and survey business and economic opportunities. 2. Description of Services: For first time homebuyers, the Partnership provides homebuyer education classes, mortgage and grant pre-qualification counseling, credit repair and budget counseling, and serves as a clearinghouse of information on down payment assistance programs and affordable housing projects. We also offer an Individual Development Account program that combines homebuyer education and financial literacy courses with a matched savings program for down payment and closing cost assistance. We periodically secure and provide down payment assistance grants from New York State or the Federal Home Loan Bank. We provide counseling for local Section 8 Housing Voucher programs. For existing homeowners, the Partnership provides financial literacy workshops and postpurchase education. We provide individual counseling to address mortgage refinance options, mortgage delinquency and foreclosure prevention strategies. We offer assistance to families who are victims of predatory loans through counseling and referral to legal services. A. Home Buyer Education: The Partnership offers a variety of education seminars, designed to meet the needs of the client. As a first step, clients are encouraged to attend our orientation session, Homebuyer 101 that describes the homebuying process, mortgages and grants. Attendees provide permission to allow the Partnership to obtain a credit report, and participants are then contacted with their next step. If the client s credit score is less than 600, clients are encouraged to attend our financial literacy workshops; afterwards, they are either encouraged to meet with a housing counselor for a one-on-one counseling session, or are referred to legal services or a debt management program. If the credit score exceeds 600, clients are given a one-on-one pre-purchase counseling appointment to establish a detailed next steps plan. One of the first next steps for credit-ready clients is to attend homebuyer education workshops. Financial Literacy Workshops: The Partnership offers money management workshops, based upon a variety of financial literacy curriculums. This two-part workshop is geared to helping households improve their financial readiness to purchase a home by describing strategies to improve credit scores, reduce debt, and save money. A complete set of these workshops is held eleven times a year. Clients are advised to contact a housing counselor for a one-on-one Affordable Housing Partnership page 2

3 appointment if they want additional help in repairing credit or when they are ready to proceed with home purchase. Homebuyer Education Workshops: In this program, pre-purchase education is offered through a two-part seminar series. The workshops address: 1) budgeting for home ownership, credit repair, mortgage qualifying and down payment assistance programs; and 2) shopping for a home, home inspection; the loan closing process; keeping your home and managing your finances, including property taxes, insurance, predatory lending, and hiring a contractor. These workshops cover all HUD required topics consistent with being a HUD-approved counseling agency. We use the nationally recognized NeighborWorks Realizing the American Dream curriculum. AHP staff market the seminars, teach the workshops and secure guest speakers (bankers, realtors and home inspectors). We average 15 people in attendance at these seminars. We hold a complete series of workshops at least six times a year. Families have the choice of attending both in one month, or taking two months to complete the seminar series. These sessions are held on Saturday mornings. B. Home Purchase Counseling: One-on-one pre-purchase counseling sessions are held on a daily basis. The sessions take 1.5 hours during which time the following occurs: Obtain information to identify the client s housing need and goals Provide a brief overview of the purchase process Develop a pre- and post-purchase household budget to confirm affordability of a mortgage payment Review a credit report, and if needed, develop a specific credit repair plan. Collect and analyze borrower s income and debt information. Review mortgage products and down payment assistance programs, and pre-qualify the family for a mortgage loan amount. Design a homeownership action plan that outlines specific next steps in the purchase process. Refer client to other agencies if necessary. Afterward, staff and clients maintain contact to monitor progress in addressing obstacles to homeownership. C. Section 8 Housing Voucher program: Affordable Housing Partnership is the counseling partner for the Albany Housing Authority. An entry point for most Section 8 voucher holders is the two-part financial literacy training and an orientation session about the Section 8 homeownership program. Clients then attend one-on-one counseling sessions to establish their homeownership plan and work on financial goals for the Family Self Sufficiency program. Partnership and Housing Authority staff meet with lenders to ensure that the Section 8 homeownership program and underwriting works smoothly for the clients. D. Post-Purchase Education: The Partnership offers regular workshops targeted to homeowners on the following topics: Landlord-tenant training: Tenant selection; budgeting, maintenance; legal issues. How to hire a contractor: Contractor selection; contract language; project scope; resources Affordable Housing Partnership page 3

4 E. Post-Purchase Counseling: We meet with homeowners to assist with budgeting and mortgage refinance options, particularly in advance of a possible interest rate change or concerns about continued mortgage loan affordability. F. Mortgage Default and Foreclosure Prevention: Staff meet with individuals at various stages of default to determine the cause of the default; the amount and extent of default; availability of resources to resolve default; review budgets; and develop money management strategies to become current with their mortgage. Staff contact lenders and advocate for the appropriate reinstatement plan when feasible. Mortgage modification program options are reviewed. If necessary, referrals are made to Consumer Credit Counseling s debt management plan and bankruptcy attorneys. The foreclosure process is described, and alternatives to foreclosure (sale of the property, deed-in-lieu, and pre-foreclosure sale program) are reviewed. The Partnership is a lead agency in the HomeSave Coalition, a group of 14 housing counseling and legal service providers working on the foreclosure issue in the Capital District. This multiagency initiative involves: marketing and outreach, including letters to delinquent homeowners about foreclosure prevention services; individual counseling to prepare clients for settlement conferences; legal assistance to clients facing foreclosure; a monthly foreclosure clinic for counselors and attorneys to meet briefly with individual clients to understand the homeowner s issue, explain options and describe next steps. G. Outreach initiatives: We have developed good relationships with major employers and have tabled at employee benefit fairs at county government offices, medical centers and other social service providers. We have an extensive social services list that we send out information to on a regular basis to promote seminars. We partner with various non-profit organizations to offer financial literacy workshops, including the Albany Public Library. We are an active participant in the CASH Coalition which promotes VITA sites and wealth building activities such as the IDA program and use of the Earned Income Tax Credit. The Partnership reaches many people from our Internet web site, including referrals from the HUD web site, as well as through internet search engines. We have a well used interactive web site (www.ahphome.org) that has greatly assisted us in the marketing of our programs. The web site has a comprehensive list of down payment programs, and permits our customers to register for workshops on-line. During some months of the year, the web site has over 1400 unique visitors. The Affordable Housing Partnership sponsors the annual Housing Fair for the Capital Region. This entails marketing using all forms of outlets such as television, print media, and radio. Over 250 people attended this year, and the event featured mortgage lenders, realtors, home inspectors as well as HUD. 3. Response to Community Needs Assistance to first time homebuyers: The City of Albany s most recent consolidated plan identified the need to increase homeownership options throughout the City of Albany and to Affordable Housing Partnership page 4

5 increase the rate of minority homeownership. These priorities are among eight that include rehabilitating existing buildings and redeveloping vacant buildings. These priorities are based upon an analysis of the following data from the 2000 Census for the City of Albany: % City residents who are Minorities 39% % Single Parent HH 16% % Owner Occupied Units 38% # HH with 50% or more rent burden 7,559 # of vacant housing units 4,579 (42% cannot be occupied) The City s survey of the community completed for its consolidated plan indicated that over 96% of all survey respondents listed the increased availability of affordable housing as the highest priority of all activities in the survey. In addition, a local foundation commissioned a telephone survey of renter households earning between 50% and 120% of area median income, and concluded that there are 15,000 households in the four-county Capital Region extremely interested in receiving homeownership assistance services. Those interested in assistance most frequently cite financial concerns as the primary barrier to achieving their homeownership goal. (Council of Community Services of NYS for the Charitable Leadership Foundation, November 2001) HMDA data from 1999 supports the need for counseling in low-income communities. This data indicates that subprime lenders take the majority of loan applications in low-income and minority communities in the Capital Region. Affirmative marketing and counseling assistance is needed to inform families of lower cost alternatives. Recently, a local forum on homelessness prevention, local non-profit, public housing authority and community development agency leaders advocated for an increase in credit and budget counseling services as an important step in rental housing stability and as a first step toward homeownership. In another local initiative, community members are organizing around a convention center to be built downtown. The community continues to argue that affordable housing is the greatest need for the neighborhoods, and they have begun to advocate for a Community Benefits Agreement that would increase affordable housing funding. The Partnership s programs respond to these statements of community needs through its counseling and education programs as well as its ability to attract down payment and rehabilitation resources to the City from federal and state sources. Foreclosure Prevention: Like many areas throughout the country, the low income, minority and rural communities in Northeastern New York have been subject to predatory lending and subprime loans. Acorn Fair Housing identifies the Albany- Schenectady-Troy Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area as the 48 th highest risk metropolitan area in the country in terms of foreclosure exposure, the highest in New York State as of September This is based on Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data, showing that 36.7% of all refinanced and home purchase loans were high cost. According to the Empire Justice Center s analysis of the Federal Reserve s data, there were a total of 6,499 subprime loans originated in the four county Albany SMSA (Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer and Saratoga Counties). By October 2007, 28% of these loans were in jeopardy -- Affordable Housing Partnership page 5

6 21% were 30 or more days late (1,358) and 7% were in foreclosure (453 loans). The future will hold more trouble as 23% of these subprime mortgages will reset by October 1, 2009 (Empire Justice Center, March 28, 2008). The Partnership has responded to the foreclosure crisis by partnering with other counseling agencies in the region to offer high quality education and counseling services. Together the groups have obtained funding for rescue grants of $1000-$3000 to assist of homeowners reinstate their mortgages. The groups have worked together on outreach and marketing to reach those in trouble and worked to strengthen their services though a joint partnership with the Legal Aid Society and the Empire Justice Center. 4. Related Resources for Homeownership A. Capital District Individual Development Account Program: This matched savings program uses funding from the Federal Home Loan Bank and from the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal. Eligible families must save in a dedicated savings account, and after 10 to 24 months of consistent savings, receive a four dollar match for every dollar they save (up to $7,500.) Families are required to attend home buyer education, counseling, and financial literacy seminars. During the program year, we anticipate leveraging $120,000 from the Federal Home Loan Bank. B. Affordable Housing Development: The Partnership, with its staff sharing arrangement with the Albany Community Land Trust assists that organization in the redevelopment of vacant buildings for sale to low-income families. Each year, four to six abandoned buildings are rehabilitated to help increase homeownership rates in two low-income neighborhoods in Albany. C. Realty Services: The Partnership is one of seven organizations that have come together to create the Capital District Homeownership Collaborative. The major initiative of the Collaborative has been to support the development of Community Realty, a real estate company that specializes in buyer representation. Local counseling agencies were finding that area realtors were not recommending down payment programs and first time homebuyer mortgage products in the best interests of our mutual customers. In addition to working closely with area counseling agencies, Community Realty promotes the benefits of purchasing a home in our city neighborhoods. D. Foreclosure Prevention Fund: The Partnership administers a $35,000 pool of funds to help families avoid foreclosure by providing small amounts of funds ($1,000 to $3,000) to help bring mortgage payments current. Households receive extensive counseling, and must illustrate that they can continue to afford their home once this assistance has been provided. E. Promote Use of Mass Transit: The Partnership has an agreement with the Capital District Transportation Authority to promote a CDTA incentive to purchase their first home in a transit supportive neighborhood. Homebuyers receive 2 free bus passes for a two-year period. Affordable Housing Partnership page 6

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