We have plentiful housing stock in Northern Berkshire. However, unlike most of the country, much of our housing predates WWII. While there is a lot of stock, much of it needs to be improved or replaced. This comes with opportunities and challenges that many homeowners and homebuyers in the district face. The Representative must assist homebuyers to afford a home and assist cities and towns to make improvements to housing stock. It is imperative that we improve this as part of an overall economic development strategy as well as a housing strategy. I will support towns in application for Community Block Grant Funding for housing rehabilitation. A program that I managed while with the Town of Adams. I believe that we should use funds for Rehabilitation programs to make code and facade improvements. I would also like to explore options to offer home improvement grants for homeowners and homebuyers to allow low income families and the elderly to keep their homes and incentivise young people to invest in homes. I believe that it is critical that we support energy efficiency programs that will make housing more efficient, saving homeowners money as well as helping our environment.
I will continue to support efforts such as the idea behind H. 655, a bill put forth by Representative Cariddi to establish a special home loan pilot program for recent college graduates in Northern Berkshire County. That said, this bill needs some thought to make it work. The treatment of student loans has been problematic for secondary market agencies including Mass Housing from a credit perspective. Since many loans are sold on the secondary market to keep money available for more loans, we need to figure out how to tailor a program so that it can succeed.
New housing debt is a known quantity and future income is not, so banks are hesitant to grant loans. Even the Mass Housing Agency views these loans as speculative.
As a young person who has student loan debt and is currently looking to buy a home, I can tell you that the issue of student loan debt is a real issue. Students loans increase your debt to income ratio, making it difficult to purchase homes even if you have perfect credit and a well paying salaried position. Many of my peers have put off purchasing homes, beginning families and starting a retirement fund due to their student loan payments each month. In fact, several think tanks have recently come out with numbers that indicate that student loan debt could have a serious negative impact on the housing market as less people can qualify under today’s standards.
Currently, Mass Housing has several segmented programs for veterans, municipal workers, and public service employees that are on a statewide basis. There may be opportunity in patterning a program after the At Home In Quincy program. This program is a partnership between the City of Quincy and Mass Housing for first time homebuyers that have worked or lived in the city for two years. The City of Quincy has a pool of $500k for down payment assistance and two lenders are approved to originate this program. My proposal would be to initiate discussions between local banks in Berkshire County. The idea is that a group of lenders would agree to contribute seed money to a program designed similar to the At Home In Quincy program, managed by a local housing agency. A bank pool would divide risk between lending institutions and lower the down payments for recent graduates or other first time home buyers. I believe that a program like this, coupled with improved housing stock has the potential to increase our value and make ourselves more attractive to prospective businesses and young home buyers in the future.
Lastly, Mass Housing has a purchase/rehabilitation program that has had some success and is designed to improve existing housing stock. Area banks are participants in the program and some have designed their own program with a couple of variations, i.e.: no income limits. We need to emphasize these programs and utilize them to the greatest extent possible.