Home ownership program seeks to fill foreclosures, spotlight Suitland area -- Gazette.Net



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Selivia Diggs, 50, shed a few tears as she signed a contract April 4 to her very first home, a two-bedroom townhouse in District Heights complete with a fenced backyard she plans on using for a housewarming cookout.

She purchased the $95,000 home after receiving $35,000 from a Prince George’s home-buying incentive program that seeks to utilize federal dollars to help sell foreclosures in the Suitland area.

“I’ve been trying for two years and it finally came through. I knew I wouldn’t be able to own a house until this program came up,” said Diggs, a hairstylist in Alexandria, Va., who had previously been renting a home in Upper Marlboro with her sister. “What do I like about the house? It’s mine. It’s actually mine. I’m a homeowner. ... It’s very emotional.”

The Prince George’s Department of Housing and Community Development hopes to use Diggs’ success story to have more first-time home buyers apply to the Buy Suitland Home Ownership Program so the county’s nearly $1 million in federal funding is used before the March 2014 deadline, officials said. Housing department officials said a lot of residents are still unaware of the program’s existence and unsure if they qualify. The federal grant came from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program and Prince George’s received the funding based on its foreclosure rates in the Suitland area and median income levels.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are an estimated 550 foreclosed homes in the program’s six-mile area that include Suitland and portions of District Heights, Morningside and Temple Hills. Yeoman said the program is based on income levels of the Washington Metropolitan Region, which has a median household income level of $84,523.

Alexis Yeoman, a spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Housing and Community Development, said six county residents have applied to the program since it started in January 2012 and each of the six have been awarded funding.

Diggs’ assistance was the highest amount awarded thus far and there is still more than $850,000 “up for grabs,” said Eric Brown, director of the the county’s housing and community development department.

“There is a great need out there. We have to make sure people know about it. We have an opportunity to utilize money and help families,” Brown said.

To be eligible for an up to $40,000 no-interest loan, the applicant must have good credit and have a household income below 50 percent of the area median. Total amounts given out vary based on credit standing and income. Diggs received $35,000 from the department, which went toward her closing costs and down payment, making her monthly mortgage less than $800, said Yeomen. Those who purchase a foreclosed home with the program’s assistance are only required to pay back half of the loan if they live in the home for more than 15 years, according to program officials.

The Suitland area was chosen as the program’s target location for its amount of foreclosures and existing revitalization efforts. Suitland/Coral Hills is one community in the Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative, a county improvement program that provides increased education, public safety and economic development services to select areas.

Rosalyn Clemens, DHCD’s Buy Suitland program director, classified the area as up-and-coming, referencing the Suitland Federal Center, Suitland Metro Station and mixed-use Suitland Manor Redevelopment Project within the boundaries.

Michael Graziano, the government affairs director for the Prince George’s County Association of Realtors, said the program “is something realtors are highly excited about” and said he supports the program targeting the Suitland area.

“There’s a lot going on here. We hope that our phones start ringing off the hook,” Clemens said.

For more program information or to apply, residents can call 301-883-7323 or visit www.princegeorgescountymd.gov/rda.

djgross@gazette.net