County Comment: Commissioners Approve Housing Aid Application

County Comment
Commissioners Approve Housing Aid Application
by Norman Bassett, Public Information Officer
Washington County, Maryland

In its regular meeting on January 6th, the Washington County Board of County Commissioners heard a request for application for funding to help alleviate problems caused by the national financial crisis, from a coalition of County organizations.
Economic Development Commission Fiscal/Research specialist Sonja Hoover, along with Real Property Administrator Joe Kuhna, Sharon Disque of the City of Hagerstown Neighborhood Development Partnership and Housing Authority of Washington County Board member Richard Keesecker brought the request, for $1.8 million in federal Housing and Emergency Recovery Act funding before the Board.
The funds, part of some $26 million through the Department of Housing and Urban Development to the Maryland Neighborhood Conservation Program, would assist in addressing abandoned and foreclosed homes in neighborhoods affected by foreclosures in the 21740 zip code, which is the area of the County with the greatest number of home foreclosures.
A lease purchase program would allow the Housing Authority of Washington County to buy up foreclosed properties and rent them with a "rent to purchase" option.
Funds would be provided for assistance with closing costs and down payments for deferred loans to eligible purchasers of those properties. Financial counseling for prospective purchasers would be provided as well.
The funding would be a start towards alleviating the county's housing crisis. Some $49 million in property was seized through 462 foreclosure actions in 2008.
Funding was also requested for use in development of a transit transfer site for the County Commuter bus system. $65,000 in development costs would aid in constructing a new transit facility on properties at the corner of Franklin and Prospect Streets that the County purchased last year. Kuhna told the Board that the City of Hagerstown is planning to contribute towards the center as well. A new downtown transfer site is needed, and the project would be eligible under the state program because it aids citizens in getting to and from places of employment, and would improve an area of urban decay.
The Commissioners approved the application by unanimous vote.