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City Helps First-Time Home Buyers


August 13, 2011

Mayor Pedro Segarra doesn't show up to congratulate most first-time home buyers in Hartford. But the mayor was just one of the many people who gathered to celebrate the milestone for Richard Sanchez.

Sanchez bought his home this July through the city's Neigborhood Stabilization Program, part of a network of organizations that helped in everything from financing to counseling on responsible ownership.

The program is a federal initiative of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, one of many national and state initiatives aimed at combating the nation's foreclosure crisis. HUD has invested almost $7 billion in it, starting in 2009, largely through grants to cities and states. The program in Hartford uses a wide variety of methods to get owners into houses.

In the case of Sanchez and several others, the city of Hartford financed the purchase of foreclosed homes from banks and renovated them using NSP money. The funds can also help offset the selling price of the home for income-eligible buyers, as they did for Sanchez.

Other state and federal programs designed to jump-start the housing market or avert forclosures have been slow to gain momentum. One, the Homeowner's Equity Recovery Opportunity Loan program, or HERO, was first tailored to allow the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority to buy home mortgages at a discount from lenders and refinance them at a lower rate so borrowers could stay in their homes.

When lenders balked at the program, it was expanded to allow consumers to buy foreclosed properties. The program has made only a handful of loans since October.

Hartford has already committed all of its grants through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, said Yasha Escalera, director of housing and property for the city. Four houses were renovated by the city directly; some of the funds went to assist Habitat for Humanity in its construction of seven new homes on Guilford Street; and an additional 11 homes are in various stages of rehab or construction. Six will be renovated and five will be new.

The city of Hartford received $2.7 million of the state of Connecticut's roughly $25 million in initial funding. It was left out of the second round of allocations but received an additional $1 million in the third round of funding -- which will be leveraged into a $1.6 million grant, including state money.

"Hartford has focused its program exclusively on home ownership because that's what we think Hartford needs more than anything," Escalera said, "so we can stabilize not only the neighborhoods, but the families that are being tossed around from apartment to apartment to apartment."

Sanchez, a New York native, says he's excited to immerse himself in Hartford, and plans to attend as many cultural events as possible. He also plans on bringing a little bit of culture along with him when he moves in. "I want to teach music appreiciation to kids in the neighborhood," he said. "It's important that I share the knowledge that I have."

Eager to begin his life in the new home, Sanchez planned to begin moving in the same day he closed on the property. Asked if it was hard to go right from work at the state Department of Labor to the NSP-required home ownership training sessions provided by the nonprofit Hartford Areas Rally Together, Sanchez said: "If you really want your dream, you have to work for it."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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