Bluffton council to vote on homebuyer policy

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Bluffton council to vote on homebuyer policy

By ALLISON STICE
astice@islandpacket.com
843-706-8138

Published Thursday, September 8, 2011   |  693 Words  |  

Bluffton's Affordable Housing Committee has recommended guidelines for selecting homeowners for six cottages being built as part of a $1 million project in old town.

The qualifications, which include income limits and award points based upon where the applicants live and work, will be up for a first reading at Town Council's meeting on Sept. 13. The committee approved them at a meeting Thursday.

To meet requirements of the grant that is funding most of the project, applicants must be first-time homebuyers who make no more than 80 percent of the county's median income, which ranges from $38,600 for one person to $63,950 for a family of six. They must also complete a homebuyer-education course and have a credit score that would allow them to qualify for a loan to buy the cottage they are interested in.

Construction of the homes on the corner of Wharf and Robertson streets is to begin in October.

The potential homeowners get the most points if they have lived in Bluffton for five years and worked in the greater Bluffton area for two.

Members of the committee also recommended a 25-year deed restriction to prevent the homes' first owners from reselling to those who don't also meet affordable housing income limits.

The restriction doesn't allow the homeowner to accumulate as much wealth but it keeps the home as part of the town's affordable housing stock, said former county affordable-housing director Shirley Wilkins, who has been hired as a consultant for the project.

Committee member Thomas Viljac said it would also prevent people from flipping the homes for profit.

"I don't believe this property should be an investment opportunity," Viljac said.

Based on the cost of construction, the cottages will likely already cost more than a low- to medium-income family can afford when they are built, town officials have said. The price of each home has not yet been determined, according to assistant town manager for growth management Marc Orlando.

To help families pay for the homes and keep property values in the surrounding neighborhood from decreasing, the town can sell the homes at a loss and provide a second, forgivable mortgage for up to 20 percent of the home purchase price, the guidelines state.

The "soft, second mortgage" would use grants to cover the difference between the cost of construction and the price of the home. It would be forgiven at 20 percent per year after the homeowner has lived in the cottage for five years.

If the resident resells the home before the loan has been forgiven, they would owe the balance to the town.

The project is funded mostly by grants from the federal government and the Lowcountry Council of Governments, with the town contributing about $11,600. However, the town must net $202,800 from selling the six homes to cover remaining costs.

Viljac noted that a provision for a background check had not yet been added to the guidelines and that neglecting that element would "lead this project south." He said residents have expressed concerns to him about who will be allowed to live in the cottages.

The consultants said the requirement will be added to the policy before it goes to council and that the grants already require a background check.

Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/BlufftonBlogIP.

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