USDA workshop addresses housing

Category: Credit Matters Published: Wednesday, 15 October 2014 Written by Admin

By Steve Hansen

QCS Managing Editor

A housing workshop sponsored by US Department of Agriculture Rural Development Housing Task Force drew 77 area residents to the Tucumcari Convention Center Tuesday to learn about assistance with major home repairs, energy efficiency, and credit matters related to home buying.

Ernie Watson, a rural development specialist, said Tucumcari's turnout was the best of any workshop that USDA Rural Development has seen at any of its sessions statewide.

Terry Brunner, director of USDA Rural Development for the state, introduced the session with some alarming statistics about housing in Quay County and northeastern New Mexico that show the  effects of a lack of home development in the area.

For instance, in Quay County, he said, 34 percent of its housing units are vacant, more than twice the state's rate of 15 percent.  About 38 percent of the county's housing units are valued at less than $50,000, three times higher than the state's rate of 13 percent of housing units valued at less than $50,000.   The median value of homes in Quay County, he said, is $68,800, almost $100,000 less than the state's median value of $161,800.

Other northeast New Mexico counties show even less favorable numbers.  Colfax County, for example has a vacancy rate of 42 percent.  Mora County has a 46 percent vacancy rate. Only Harding County, however, had a higher percentage of housing units priced below $50,000 at nearly 43 percent.  Brunner said the US Census Bureau was his source for these statistics.

Brunner said these numbers reflect the aging of the population in these counties, as well as declining economies.  In Quay County, he said, the percentage of households with children under 18 years old is 18.6 percent, compared with 29.3 percent for the rest of the state, and 30 percent nationally.

The first steps in dealing with what he called northeast New Mexico's "housing desert," he said, are to help the people who live in the area with some basic steps in home buying and home improvement.  Tuesday's housing workshop was designed to help area residents get started with information about what is available and how to qualify for assistance from the USDA and other agencies.

The bulk of Tuesday's workshop occurred through  "breakout sessions" that focused on the areas of home rehabilitation, how to qualify for a federal USDA or a state Mortgage Finance Authority loan to buy a home, how to become credit-worthy and remain that way, and home energy efficiency.

The most popular sessions dealt with home rehabilitation, where Diana Lopez, a rural development specialist, guided up to 30 residents through what kind of improvements and repairs are eligible for USDA grants and loans , and how residents can qualify for assistance. Assistance is also available, she said, to make mobile home foundations permanent, which then qualifies them for grants and loans to make other improvements.

The energy efficiency session also drew good attendance.  Ken Hughes, a clean energy specialist for the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources  Department, talked about lighting, refrigerators, home insulation and other areas in which residents can help their homes achieve comfort levels at less energy cost.  In addition, Hughes talked about the savings available by installing solar energy in homes with monthly electric bills in excess of $100 per month.

Chris Herbert, Eastern Regional Housing Authority director, and Sandy Chancey, director of the Eastern Plains Council of Governments, teamed up to offer advice on becoming credit-worthy.

First, Herbert said, some credit should be established, either through loans or qualifying for a credit card.  It is also important, he said, to limit the use of a credit card.  The balance due on the card, he said, should never be more than 15 percent of the credit limit, and payments should be made on time.  If  the credit limit on the card is $10,000, he said, the balance due should never exceed $1,500.  It is also important to keep credit cards.  The best credit scores, he said, result from credit cards held for at least 10 years, especially if on-time payment is consistent.

For some major purchases that become necessary, Herbert said, it is sometimes advisable to attempt to finance the expense with an installment loan through a bank, rather than with a credit card.

Credit-worthiness is reflected in credit scores, he said, and the better the credit score, the more likely it is that a potential home buyer can secure a mortgage and the better the rate will be.

Teri Baca, a specialist with the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority, guided participants through the steps of qualifying for USDA and MFA loans for first-time home purchases.  Some loan programs, she said, will even offer down payments as a grant.

Brunner said he hopes that workshops such as Tuesday's session will lead to more home-buying and better home maintenance, which, he said, could be a first step in  attracting more home builders to the northeast region, where housing stock is aging and new construction is sparse.

Tucumcari hosted the workshop after Brunner consulted with Pat Vanderpool, executive director of the Greater Tucumcari Economic Development Corporation, and Vanderpool made  arrangements with the Convention Center to host the event, Vanderpool said.

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