Homeownership program targets helping others

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 28, 2003

Potential homebuyers unaware of a county program may be unnecessarily putting off a new home purchase.

The Mower County Homeownership fund, in existence since 1997, provides low-interest loans to qualifying individuals to pay down payment and closing costs on a new home.

"It's a well-kept secret," Joe Fuhrman, a member of the fund's board, said.

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Kara Spinler is a home mortgage consultant for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. She handles 15 to 20 loans a year through the fund.

"They don't have the money for a down payment or closing fee, and they don't realize that option or other options for financing," she said. "They might shy away from it because of that."

The fund can grant in individual a maximum $4,000 loan at two percent interest usually over a five-year period. The house can not cost more than $95,000 and the individual's salary must fall below the maximum set by Housing and Urban Development. Director of Administrative Services Tom Dankert said the maximum salary is usually around $50,000 per year.

"Our ultimate goal is to get people into homes, create pride in their neighborhood and create a tax base from those homes," he said.

Since its creation, the fund has received $195,000 from both the city and the county and $125,000 from the Hormel Foundation. The balance now stays pretty steady at $200,000 as loans are distributed and payments taken in.

Dankert stressed that the money distributed is not a gift. All loans must be repaid, but they have not had much of a problem with missed payments so far.

"We do have some criteria we look at ourselves to make sure the taxpayers' money is secure," he said.

Fuhrman said people in Austin are using the fund, but the surrounding communities are not taking advantage of it.

"The county is not using it, and those banks are maybe not aware of it," he said.

Even in Austin, Spinler said realtors and bankers are the only ones really aware that it exists.

"The program is very good for most people buying their first house," she said. "That is typically the program we're going to use."

Although they would like to see more people using it, Fuhrman said it has been a successful program.

"We wanted to jump-start the housing economy a little bit, and it's worked well, I think," he said.

To get more information about the Mower County Homeownership fund, contact a realtor or banker.

Matt Merritt can be reached at 434-2214 or by email at matt.merritt@austindailyherald.com