Billings Couple Buys Once-in-a-Lifetime Affordable House

[Photo: Eric and Amber Persson in the kitchen of their new home.]
Eric and Amber Persson in the kitchen of their new home.

Reprinted by permission of the Billings Gazette
Of The Gazette Staff

Eric and Amber Persson couldn't be happier with their new house, and that makes a lot of other people happy. It took the cooperation of half a dozen businesses and government agencies to get the young couple - they're both 18 - into a house they could afford. They moved into the house in mid-December. "It was just before Christmas," Eric Persson said. "We just had time to buy a tree."

The chain of events that landed the Perssons in their new house began last year, when the city of Billings bought the run-down, one-bedroom house for $1 from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD allows cities to buy repossessed homes if they have failed to sell after being on the market for six months. The city then offered to give the house to any builder who would agree to remodel and sell it to an eligible first-time home buyer. It ended up in the hands of Community Leadership Development Inc., which has long been involved in building and renovating affordable housing on the South Side.

Rebuilt home

The organization basically gutted the house, putting in a new foundation, furnace and plumbing, besides making some additions. When it was finished, it looked like a new home, complete with four bedrooms and two baths. Community Leadership Development put it on the market for $75,000 - exactly what the remodel had cost.

While work on the residence at 324 S. 34th St. was still under way last summer, Eric and Amber Perssons were looking for a house. They got signed up for the city's first-time home buyer program, open to those who earn no more than 60 percent of the median income. That translates into no more than $29,160 for a family of four.

The Perssons had heard about the home from Amber's sister, who had looked at it first but didn't qualify because it wasn't her first home. As part of the program sponsored by the Community Services Division of the city of Billings, the Perssons qualified for a $5,000 grant to help with their down payment and a 6 percent mortgage arranged through the Montana Board of Housing.

No. 400

Joe Burst, coordinator of the city's Home Investment Partnership Program, said the Perssons had the distinction of being the 400th family or individual to receive a down payment grant since the first one was awarded in 1993. If a recipient of the grant sells the house, moves or refinances, he or she must repay the $5,000. A lot of people have done that, Burst said, but that's a good thing because in most cases it means they've moved on to a more expensive house and could afford to repay the grant. Like all who participate in the program, Eric Perssons attended a first-time home buyer class offered by the city. One of the people teaching the class happened to be Aldo Rowe, head of the Community Development Board and a community development loan officer for Wells Fargo. The Perssons ended up getting their loan through Wells Fargo, with help from Security Title. Rowe said partnerships like the one involved in getting the Perssons into their first home are becoming more common, by necessity. A so-called affordable house is $90,000 to $110,000 these days, Rowe said, "but to some people that is still pretty expensive."

The Perssons, who are expecting in March, have big plans for their new house. They already put up a new fence, and next spring they want to plant some grass and build a garage. Eric said they had rented an apartment together for a couple of years, but knew, especially with a baby on the way, that they wanted to buy. "I'm the kind of person who'd rather invest my money than throw it away," Eric said. "Not to mention that this was a once-in-a-lifetime house," Amber said.

Ed Kemmick can be reached at 657-1293 or


Content Archived: April 12, 2011