Buying your first home could be within reach for those attending the PACE meeting
NEW BEDFORD — About 150 people took to Facebook Wednesday night to learn how middle- and low-income earners can buy their first home.
“People are paying too much rent and they’re kind of sick of it,” said Joshua Amaral, deputy general manager of People Acting in Community Efforts (PACE), Inc.the organized the event“And for a good reason.”
Amaral, the event’s moderator, felt it was necessary to let people know that buying a home is a more realistic goal than they thought and that paying off a mortgage is a better investment in yourself than renting it.
“That’s how you write it [check] for himself,” he said.
Speakers included State Assemblyman Chris Markey and representatives from several organizations concerned with South Coast housing, including: MassHousing, Neighborworks housing solutions, 3rd Eye Youth Empowermentthe New Bedford Office of Housing and Community Development.
Markey was the first to speak.
“I always think that home ownership is one of the most important things to create wealth in your family,” he said. “Home ownership is where we get to the point where we feel like you have something to pass on.”
Many participants said they wanted a way out of paying high rents in a city where the housing stock has not kept pace with the population.
“Paying $1750 for a 2 bedroom apartment on the second floor,” Alisha Estrella wrote in the comments.
“I pay $2,600 for a 4 bed[room apartment]said Ken Sisson.
Carmen Mejil, director of the PACE Housing Opportunity Center, said rate hikes started in spring 2020 and were hit harder as pandemic protections expired.
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“Just go online and look at these apartments, it’s very disappointing,” Mejil said. “In March 2020 you could get a one bedroom for $750 and a three bedroom [bedroom] for $900.”
Currently, rental prices in New Bedford are $1,729, $101 higher than the national average, and the average apartment size is 972 square feet. according to rentcafe.com.
Data from the 5-year estimate of the 2020 American Community Survey says the median household income in New Bedford is just under $49,000 annually.
A United Interfaith Action report released in May said 47% of residents were cost-burdened with housing – meaning they spent over 30% of their income on housing – compared to 29% nationwide.
Several speakers said that income is not necessarily a barrier to home ownership. A change in attitude, combined with some financial hope, was said to be the key to solving the housing problem.
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“If they don’t level up, it puts a dam or a cork on the whole process,” Markey said. He made the comment regarding the current residents who cannot move out of their first homes because they cannot buy at current prices; How to keep the next wave of people looking for starter apartments/houses away.
He also said that much of the solution lies outside of the whaling town.
“[Suburbs] are the places where we need to get people to buy their first homes,” he said of their new homes.”
Getting there might be difficult for many, which is why several panelists offered tips on how to prepare financially; particularly in relation to credit.
“One of the biggest hurdles people face is their credit score,” said Kevin Sullivan, affordable housing specialist at the New Bedford Office of Housing and Community Development.
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“We can have a financial coaching program where we can help you get tips about your creditworthiness,” said Amanda Glennon of Neighborworks Housing Solutions.
Sullivan pointed to it several programs offered by the City of New Bedford support homebuyers. The highlight was the Neighborhoods First program for first-time home buyers.
The program provides assistance to eligible beneficiaries with a 10-year deferred loan of $10,000 for a down payment, provided the buyer also provides at least $1,000 for the down payment.
If they stay in the home for 10 years, the loan will be waived.
The city also offers loans and grants to cover repairs, lead paint removal, and help pay for gaps.
Goretti Joaquim, senior relationship manager at MassHousing, said the quasi-public agency expects an influx of ARPA funds to expand its programs. She stressed that using a company like MassHousing could be beneficial over the long term on a theoretical 30-year mortgage.
“You don’t want that being sold to TX or CA and having to speak to a rep who doesn’t know your situation,” she said.
MassHousing also offers down payment assistance, help covering mortgage payments in the event of an unexpected job loss, and more.
However, all panelists agreed that the best thing a first-time buyer could do would be to take a class.
“The way to turn people into first-time home buyers is to get an education,” Glennon said. “Buying a home is full of mysteries.”
‘A Whole New World’
Peter Lonelle Walker, program director of 3rd Eye Youth Empowerment and recent first-time home buyer, spoke about his experience.
He spoke of a “psychological barrier” that many people of color face when looking to buy their first home.
“I want you to understand that when you’re first introduced to the concept of home ownership,” he said, “take a deep breath and understand that it takes steps.”
Walker and his wife bought their home through a Waterfront Historic Area League (WAL) Program. He said the experience of owning their first home changed the family’s view of the world.
“When you get into a home, you really start to understand budgeting,” he said. “It opens your mind to a whole new world.”
He concluded by saying that the best way to make homeownership more accessible to broader sections of the population is through dialogue.
“We who work in these spaces can only make them more accessible [people] through dialogue, not through abuse.”