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The Ways to Stabilize a Community: Prosper Q&A with Karry Rieth

Block grants, home improvement grants, home-buying programs, foreclosure prevention and counseling programs. All these things are facilitated by the Oakland County Community & Home Improvement Division. It's a part of local government that's focused on maintaining the community, the neighborhood, and the home. Prosper dives in to find out a little about Manager Karry Rieth's branch, who has served as manager of the Community & Home Improvement Division for more than 18 years.

Question: What is the purpose of the Oakland County Community Home
Improvement Division and what can it do for County Residents?

Answer: The Oakland County Community & Home Improvement Division administers seven federal grant programs.
  1. Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program that provides funding to the 51 communities that complete capital improvement programs such as street, sidewalk, sewer, etc., projects and funding for public services activities such as battered and abused spouses, emergency food and shelter funds, etc. In addition, communities may establish minor home repair and chore activities at help qualified individuals stay in their homes. A major county program is the Home Improvement Program. (More on that later.)
  2. Funds from the Home Investment Partnerships Act program supplement the Home Improvement Program. In addition, funds are provided to Community Development Housing Organizations that provide housing for low and moderate income county residents by building new housing units or rehabilitating existing housing units.
  3. Emergency Shelter Grant funds are used to support six organizations that provide temporary emergency housing and support services for the homeless and battered and abused spouses.
  4. Comprehensive Housing Counseling Grant funds are used to support housing counselor in the division. These counselor provide a broad spectrum of services including but not limited to: foreclosure prevention and guidance, tenant and landlord information, new home purchasing, subsidized housing assistance and reverse mortgage counseling.
  5. Neighborhood Stabilization Program funding to stimulate the economy. Funds are directed to purchasing and occupying vacant foreclosed properties in select communities in Oakland County through the Oakland County Homebuyer Program. In addition, funds have been provided to ten communities to purchase vacant foreclosed properties for demolition or rehabilitation and resale to income qualified people.
  6. The Community Development Block Grant Recovery Program is a one-time grant that provides funds to three high need communities to identify and complete construction of capital improvement projects that will benefit the community in the shortest time possible.
  7. Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program Grant is a one time grant whose funds that will be administered by Oakland County and contracted with non-profit organizations to provide short term rental assistance, medium term rental assistance, security deposits, utility costs, utility payment and moving cost assistance for people experiencing mortgage and tax foreclosures.

The Division began receiving federal funds in 1975 and has received over $242.4 million dollars since the initial funding. These funds are directed to assist low- and moderate-income Oakland County residents in 51 communities in the county.

Q: What are the goals of the Oakland County Homebuyer Program? What does it hope to accomplish?

A: Oakland County's Homebuyer Program for Vacant Foreclosed Properties is part of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) created by the U.S. Congress in 2008 for the purpose of redeveloping and occupying abandoned and foreclosed homes. NSP is funded through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Office of Community Planning and Development under the Community Development Block Grant Program and locally administered by the Oakland County Community & Home Improvement Division.

Oakland County's Homebuyer Program provides loans to homebuyers for down payment assistance, closing costs, pre-paids, reasonable discount points, home improvements or other financing associated with purchasing eligible vacant foreclosed single family homes located within select participating Oakland County communities. The home must be purchased by the homebuyer as their primary residence.

Q: How does one apply for the program and what is a successful applicant?

A: Homebuyers must income-qualify based on income limits established by HUD. Homebuyers with incomes at or below 50% of Area Median Income (AMI) are eligible for assistance. Eligible incomes by family size are identified as follows.

Homebuyer Screening Forms and NSP program information are available on the Division's website at www.oakgov.com/chi or by calling the Homebuyer hotline at (248) 858-1529. The Community & Home Improvement Division is located at 250 Elizabeth Lake Road, Pontiac, MI 48341-0414.

The goal of the program is to have income qualified people purchase and occupy vacant foreclosed properties in select communities in Oakland County. It is anticipated that approximately 100 individuals/families will have the opportunity to benefit from this program. Purchasing and occupying vacant foreclosed properties will help stabilize communities that have been impacted significantly by mortgage and tax foreclosures.

Q: For someone looking to purchase a home, what could the Oakland County Homebuyer Program provide?

A: Oakland County can provide no-interest loans for down payment assistance, closing costs, home improvements or other financing. The homebuyer must prequalify for a fixed rate mortgage loan from a lending institution. This loan represents 51% of the purchase price. Oakland County will finance the remaining 49% of the purchase and rehabilitation costs up to $100,000. The homebuyer must also provide $2,000 to initiate the purchase. The homebuyer only pays on the conventional mortgage obtained from their lender. Payment on the down payment and home improvement loans is deferred until the property changes ownership.

Q: You also offer a home improvement program. What does that entail and how does one apply for the program?

A: Home improvements may often seem out of reach for many homeowners due to the economy and rising costs of construction. In order to assist families with necessary home improvements and repairs, the Oakland County Community and Home Improvement Division is offering no cost, no interest deferred payment home improvement loans.

Qualified homeowners can receive a deferred, zero percent interest loan for up to $18,000 to make improvements to their homes. Items that are eligible are roofs, windows, siding, doors, insulation, furnaces, etc. After completing the qualifying process, qualified technicians in conjunction with the homeowner, determine what needs to be done to improve the home. The technician monitors the work, authorizes contactor payments and ensures that all the work is completed to industry standards.

Loans can be used for a wide variety of home improvements. In order to qualify, a family must own and live in the dwelling and meet income eligibility requirements. Mortgage payments and property taxes must be current. To request an application, call (248) 858-5401 or visit www.oakgov.com/chi. This program has been in existence for over thirty years and has assisted thousands of county homeowners. Homeowners considering this program are encouraged to submit an application as soon as possible since funding is limited and applicants are served on a first come first served basis.

Q: Finally, many homeowners are fighting foreclosures these days; in what ways can your department help Oakland County residents experiencing this ordeal?

A: The Community & Home Improvement Division is a HUD certified Housing Counseling Agency with two professional full-time counselors dedicated to resolving mortgage and property tax delinquency, default and foreclosure problems. Housing consumers can call (248) 858-5402 or toll free at 1 (888) 350-0900, ext. 85402 for intervention assistance. Help with understanding the foreclosure process and self-help steps homeowners can take are available on line at www.oakgov.com/chi.

Q: How successful has the department been in fighting foreclosures?

A: Our counselors have had a 70% success rate in helping homeowners preserve their housing through negotiation with lenders and other alternatives to foreclosure.

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