June 15, 2007

SIUC assists in affordable housing project

by Christi Mathis


CARBONDALE, Ill. – Thanks to the efforts of a broad-based coalition including Southern Illinois University Carbondale, several low- and moderate-income families will soon own brand-new homes at a price they can afford. Five energy-efficient homes are under construction with work to begin on five more soon on a 1.3-ace lot on North Robert A. Stalls Avenue in Carbondale.

Various governmental agencies, community organizations and private businesses as well as SIUC participated in the Carbondale Home Ownership Project, which is making quality, affordable homes available in an area where there's been no new construction in about three decades. The first home, begun in May, should be ready for occupancy by Aug. 1 and four more will be finished soon thereafter. Work on the other five will follow. Each 1,250-square-foot house with one-car garage comes with a low-interest mortgage of about $78,000.

A community ceremony marked the beginning of the $1.3 million project nearly two years ago. Although there were a few delays in finalizing all the details, things are progressing very quickly now, said Rob Schroeder, housing coordinator for Western Egyptian Economic Opportunity Council, one of the major partners in the project. Buyers have already staked claims on four of the new houses under construction along with one to come. Pre-sales of the other five homes are under way.

Each home includes three bedrooms, 1 1/2 baths, energy-efficient heating, air conditioning and appliances and safety equipment including smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Amenities include carpeting and vinyl windows and the buyers can choose from three exterior designs, two floor plans and can customize many of the interior features. Each home has ample closet space, vinyl siding, and a patio. The new subdivision is in a friendly neighborhood near public schools and shopping centers.

Buyers make a $1,000 down payment. Schroeder said the goal is providing home ownership to working families earning as little as $19,000 annually. Income for a family of four can be as much as $41,750 while a family of eight can earn up to $55,100 and qualify for a new home with this program, he said.

"We estimate they'll pay as little as $500 a month, maybe even a little less than that for some, and that includes everything- their mortgage, insurance and taxes," Schroeder said. "And for that, they will own a brand new home!"

The exact payment depends on several factors, including income, since that factors into the interest rate for each loan.

A unique funding arrangement keeps the costs remarkably low for buyers. MidCountry Bank is providing more than $1 million in construction funds. The Illinois Facility Fund is contributing $150,000, the Federal Home Loan Bank Board is giving $50,000 and the city of Carbondale is putting in $58,000 for infrastructure and site improvements. Meanwhile, the Illinois Housing Development Authority is putting $400,000 in permanent financing into the project, with those funds essentially offsetting $40,000 in mortgage costs for each home, Schroeder said. A purchaser would only have to repay any of the IHDA portion of the mortgage if they sell the home at a profit.

Major project sponsors include the community action agency WEEOC, based in Steeleville and Carbondale's Attucks Community Services Inc. SIUC offices that have participated include Black American Studies, School of Architecture, the Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development, and the Office of Economic and Regional Development. The center received a three-year, $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2002 to create a Community Outreach Partnership Center, which in turn got the project off the ground.

The Illinois Community Action Development Corp. and Housing Action Illinois, two agencies whose goal is providing affordable housing to rural residents of the state, provided free consulting services. Others involved in the project since its inception include Eggemeyer Associates Architects Inc., Jackson County Housing Authority, Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, Southern Illinois Center for Independent Living and Gillespie Property Management.

For more information about purchasing a home through the Carbondale Home Ownership Project, contact WEEOC at 618/965-3193 or Attucks Community Services at 618/549-0341.