Building Blocks

[Photo: Foreclosure sign in front of house]
Foreclosure sign in front of house

BOISE, IDAHO - Chances are your neighborhood hasn't changed that much in the five or ten or fifteen years since your family first decided to live there.

The trees are taller. Some houses have new siding or a new roof. Streetlights are now energy-efficient, the crack in the sidewalk up around the corner has been repaired, the playground equipment made kid-safe. But, all in all, it's pretty much the same place it was back when you first decided to call it home. And that's the way you like it.

But along came the Great Recession and where once every house on your street was occupied. today some houses stand empty,a foreclosure sign posted, forlornly, in the front yard. The national housing crisis may have started on Wall Street but, by now, it's almost certainly hit your street.

"That's just the way the world goes round," some will say. "Markets go up and they go down. You've just got to get out of their way and let the market work its way back."

Fortunately, neither President George W. Bush nor President Barack Obama subscribed to that view. To the contrary, each supported and signed legislation passed by the Congress to establish a Neighborhood Stabilization Program to provide strapped local governments with resources to reclaim foreclosed and abandoned properties and, thereby, to revitalize neighborhoods hardest hit by the housing crisis.

In Idaho, the program's run by the Idaho Housing and Finance Association. It's not a foreclosure prevention program. There are other programs for that. Instead, NSP is intended to help neighborhoods recover from the effects of foreclosed or abandoned properties - like eyesores, a rise in vandalism or declining property values, a less vital community.

The Associations provides grants to local governments that can be used either to demolish or purchase the properties which are then rehabilitated and re-sold to families earning up to 120 percent of an area's median income.

"The idea isn't to make money on these sales," Association executive vice president Julie Williams told The Idaho Statesman. Once the property is rehabilitated, re-sold and re-occupied, the proceeds help replenish the Association's program, allowing it to do the same with more homes. A program that started with $19.6 million in HUD funds, says The Statesman, "could result in as much as $50 million worth of housing over the life of the program."

So far, the Association reports, local governments have bought just over 200 properties in Ada, Bannock, Bonneville, Elmore, Gem, Owyhee, Kootenai and Twin Falls counties. Ninety-eight have already been purchase with another 53 in the pipeline. And the Association has just applied for another $5 million to expand the program into Canyon County. Nationwide, the program already has reclaimed 36,000 abandoned or foreclosed properties and expects to do same for another 64,000.

That's good news for local governments and the new homebuyers. But they're not the only beneficiaries. "You're also generating economic activity by creating work for contractors, appraisers, title companies and Realtors," Bob Reed, director of housing development for Mercy Housing Idaho told The Statesman.

"After the family, the neighborhood is the most important building block in any society," said HUD Regional Administrator Mary McBride. "As the Association and local governments in Idaho are demonstrating, strengthen them and we help America win the future. It's work that not only should, but must continue."


Content Archived: November 21, 2014