By Charles Hallman
Free money — that’s what NeighborhoodLIFT Program Manager Kimberly Smith-Moore calls $15,000 in down payment assistance that’s being offered to eligible homebuyers. The down payment assistance can be applied to a mortgage loan with any approved lender. The program is a partnership between Wells Fargo, NeighborWorks America, Neighborhood Housing Services in Minneapolis and Community Neighborhood Housing Services in St. Paul.
Wells Fargo is investing $9 million — $7.2 million for the $15,000 down payment assistance grants, $650,000 for educational events, and Minneapolis and St. Paul each will get $575,000 for local hosting initiatives. The bank also has set a five-year lending goal of $1.2 billion in mortgage loans in Minneapolis and $700 million in St. Paul.
The program will launch at a two-day event Friday and Saturday, September 7 and 8 at the Minneapolis Convention Center, an event officials call “a free large-scale homebuyer workshop.” They say the program has helped create 263 new homeowners in nine U.S. cities including Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles and Miami.
“The Wells Fargo Foundation has been a great partner with Neighborhood Housing Services,” Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) of Minneapolis Executive Director Glennis Ter Wisscha said before the August 28 press conference held on the porch of a newly remodeled home on Girard Avenue North in Minneapolis. Her organization and St. Paul’s Neighborhood Housing Services are NeighborWorks America local affiliates and will implement the NeighborhoodLIFT program.
“Everybody wants to own [a home], but they don’t know if they can. These are the people we specialize in,” continued Ter Wisscha. Her St. Paul counterpart Jason Peterson said, “We are very delighted to be a part of this partnership.”
“We chose Minneapolis and St. Paul because they are two cities that were impacted by the housing crisis,” said Wells Fargo Minnesota CEO Dave Kvamme. “We really wanted to invest in these cities because there are communities that we wanted to help revitalize.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to get homeowners into homes,” continued Kvamme, pointing out that the NeighborhoodLIFT program is the first of its kind supported by a financial institution “to help revitalize neighborhoods and promote sustainable homeownership.”
Since 1980, NHS has invested $250 million on Minneapolis’ North Side, said Ter Wisscha. “All our development properties are in North Minneapolis. All of them were foreclosed.”
The former duplex on Girard that hosted the press conference is now a six-bedroom, two-bath home, one of those Northside foreclosed properties Ter Wisscha referred to. “We bought it from the City” and completely remodeled it in about a year, she pointed out. Now it is ideal for “a large extended family that can use this gorgeous place.”
During the half-hour press conference, an unidentified woman walking by stopped and asked the officials about buying a home with poor credit. Each applicant will go through a “typical loan application [process],” explained Kvamme. “If you do come to the event and you don’t qualify at this time, there will be counselors on hand to help you repair your credit and work with you to become a homeowner.”
Homebuyers must meet all program requirements, including a household income that is equal to or less than 120 percent of the area median income. “So if you are a single person, you can’t make more than X; if there’s eight [in the family], you can’t make more than Y. The median income is set by HUD based on family size,” noted Ter Wisscha.
She added that applicants who qualify will buy and live in a home located in either Minneapolis or St. Paul for at least five years, and they don’t have to be first-time home buyers. “We’re making it as hoops-free as possible.”
Greater Mount Moriah Ministries Pastor Vincent Cotten briefly looked inside the home, which was available for short walk-throughs — he and his family live down the street from the house. “When I moved to the block, there were vacant properties,” recalled Cotten. He supports the new program and look forward to seeing the house occupied soon.
Cotton said there are a lot of families who have children in his congregation that could benefit from the program. “If you own a home, you are going to be stable,” surmised the pastor.
The two-day Convention Center event will offer free bus tours of available homes in neighborhoods in both cities, including North Minneapolis and St. Paul’s Frogtown, from 12 noon to five pm each day. Smith-Moore says she wants people from all over the Twin Cities to attend and “fill up the [Convention] Center.”
The NeighborhoodLIFT program is scheduled for Friday and Saturday, Sept. 7-8, 10 am to seven pm at the Minneapolis Convention Center, Hall A. Prospective homebuyers can register online or by calling 866-858-2151. Thanks to the TC Daily Planet for sharing this story with us.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected]