New Loan Program Aims to Move Middle-Income Homebuyers Into Center City

Despite that "unexpected" adverb that inexplicably dominates the headlines during this era of economic doom and gloom, we should have known that May's crash in home sales was coming. It's no secret that the feds, thanks to a tax credit of up to $8,000 for homebuyers, have been desperately trying to keep the housing market afloat. So what's so "unexpected" about the fact that sales fell off a cliff once the credits expired?

And I'm not kidding about that cliff. Sales of new single-family homes dropped 32.7 percent in May. That's the largest monthly decline since the government started tracking sales in 1963, leaving recovery-pushing pundits to reach for the Alka-Seltzer. Those numbers, says Washington Post pundit Ezra Klein, are "closely watched because the construction industry contributes to job creation and economic growth."

Klein's quote comes dangerously close to acknowledging suburban critic Jim Kunstler's point that America's post-modern economy essentially amounts to the building, furnishing, and servicing of exurban sprawl. As a result, our cities have spent 50 years locked in a furious cycle of construction and abandonment. We build. We buy. And when the newness wears off, we move on like locusts.

Luckily, some of us are trying to reverse the trend and reoccupy the empty exuviae of old homes, offices and stores that litter our inner cities and, increasingly, our inner suburbs. And, despite urban legends about "grants" subsidizing the so-called gentrification of neighborhoods like Fourth and Gill or Parkridge, most people have done it on their own initiative, drawn by everything from architecture and affordability to an appreciation for the predicament that the predominant development paradigm has put America in.

But now I'm glad to say that city government has gotten into the game. Disappointed that the homebuyer tax credit has expired? How about $8,000 of down-payment assistance on selected homes around the center-city? And, unlike many past programs, this one comes with no income restrictions. Aimed at putting more middle-income owners around downtown, the $8,000 in down-payment assistance comes in the form of a loan, forgiven over five years, so long as the buyer remains the owner-occupant.

The half-dozen homes in the program are as diverse as their surrounding neighborhoods—from three new LEED-certified homes in Five Points and a new Energy-Star certified home on Moses in Mechanicsville to a pair of rehabbed historic homes in Parkridge. My favorite, by far, is this quaint Victorian cottage on Washington Avenue. Expanded by a rear addition into a three bedroom, two-bath home, it features a modern center island kitchen and new energy efficient windows alongside old-school features like hardwood floors and original trim. Oh, and while I haven't found an exact match in any of the catalogs, based on the Parkridge location and that fancy fretwork on the front gable, I'd be willing to wager it was the work of architect George F. Barber. m

2019 Washington Avenue

1750 sq. ft.

3 bdrm/ 2 bath

$179,900

Contact: Nic Nicaud

Realty Executives: 588-3232