Filed Under:  Local, News

New program hopes to increase homeownership in New Orleans

21st January 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Mason Harrison
Contributing Writer

Home ownership in Orleans Parish continues to lag behind regional and national averages, but a new program from Wells Fargo bank, in partnership with the City of New Orleans, Hope Enterprise Corporation and NeighborWorks America, aims to help bring the city in line with other parts of the country. The NeighborhoodLIFT program is a $5.15 million investment in boosting the ability of would-be homeowners to acquire enough funding to secure a down payment.

“We very much want to be a part of the rebuilding of New Orleans,” says Hugh Rowden, who manages community outreach efforts for Wells Fargo in the southeastern United States. “Bringing down the cost of homeownership and making it more affordable is a part of that strategy.” Rowden says New Orleans is the 23rd city where the bank has implemented the grant program.

Local homebuyers who qualify can receive $15,000 in down payment assistance in conjunction with other home assistance programs, which can be applied to the purchase of a second home or the purchase of a home that needs repairs. “If you find a home that you like, but, because we know about flooding in Louisiana, the home needs to be raised, you can still use the down payment funding for the purchase of that home,” Rowden says. “This is a part of our commitment, although Wells Fargo is a national institution, to operate as a community bank.”

In 2012, 47 percent of New Orleans residents were homeowners, according to figures from the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center. In the same year, more than 60 percent of Jefferson Parish residents owned their homes and more than 70 percent were homeowners in St. Tammany Parish. Nationwide, 64 percent of Americans live in a home that they own.

Homeownership has been linked to fostering stable communities and $500,000 of the money from the Wells Fargo program will be dedicated to neighborhood stabilization efforts implemented by the city. “We intend to play a leading role in bringing New Orleans back,” Rowden says. “There has been a significant impact on the housing market in New Orleans and we can help change that.”

Wells Fargo will host a two-day registration event at the Morial Convention Center Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. Interested homebuyers should not have incomes that exceed 120 percent of New Orleans’ area median income, or $70,550 for a family of four. Income limits will vary based on family size and the overall type of home loan received. Homebuyers must be able to qualify for a home loan. “We encourage people can call us and visit us online for more information,” Rowden says. “Our website is neighborhoodlift.com and we’re always available by phone at (866) 858-2151.”

Homebuyers who qualify to receive down payment assistance must complete an eight-hour education seminar through Hope Enterprise Corporation or another federally approved homeownership counseling agency and can secure an overall home loan though any financial institution. “While we certainly hope that folks will choose Wells Fargo for their home loans, they don’t have to,” says Rowden. NeighborWorks America develops homeownership programs across the United States and is involved in promoting the NeighborhoodLIFT initiative in New Orleans and elsewhere.

“On the whole I think that this program is good and addresses the greatest challenge that homeowners are facing, which is being priced out of the market and experiencing the rising cost of insurance,” says James Perry, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center. “Bringing down the cost of securing a down payment will help counter the problem and is an important step in the right direction for Wells Fargo, which has had issues with fair housing practices.”

Perry’s organization was a part of legal action taken against Wells Fargo in Baton Rouge over charges that the lender disproportionately foreclosed on Black homeowners versus their white counterparts. “This is obviously an opportunity for Wells to grow its business portfolio,” Perry says. “I applaud them for taking a look at their practices and doing the right thing. There are other lenders who are still fighting evidence of unfair lending practices, but Wells has decided to turn that around.”

New Orleans mayor, Mitch Landrieu, in a prepared statement, backed the Neighborhood­LIFT program as an important tool in increasing the rate of homeownership in New Orleans in conjunction with existing programs. “Supporting and encouraging homeownership is vital to strengthening our neighborhoods throughout New Orleans,” Landrieu said. “We have worked closely with Wells Fargo to ensure that these funds leverage our other successful housing programs and magnify the impact of this generous investment in our city. This public-private partnership has the potential to make a significant difference to our residents and neighborhoods.

Dawn Domengeaux, director of client services for the Housing Authority of New Orleans, describes the program as an “exciting opportunity” for HANO residents. “This frees up additional dollars for residents with low to moderate incomes to combine with other programs. We will continue to make this program known to our residents because we want to send the message that ‘you too can own a home’ and that you don’t have to rent for the rest of your life or reside in HANO properties.”

This article originally published in the January 20, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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