Charles Johnson of Ellenwood soon will be a first-time homeowner thanks to a new DeKalb County program that has allocated $20 million to help potential buyers with credit challenges to purchase a home.
“I did not know anything about a home,” Johnson said. “I was apprehensive. Just like anybody else, I was worried about my credit score.”
Johnson is the first person to qualify for a home under the Get Home Now! program in which the DeKalb County government, The Home Depot, First Guaranty Mortgage and APD Solutions, a neighborhood revitalization firm, have teamed up to remove barriers to home ownership.
The program, which was officially launched on June 1, provides loans for first-time buyers with credit scores of 580 or higher.
“I knew I was better than that,” Johnson said. “Not by much, but I qualified and that’s all that matters. If I can do it, anybody can do it.”
As part of the program, The Home Depot will complete any needed renovations and upgrades to the property.
The program will help DeKalb County to be “a part of ground zero, not just for foreclosures, but ground zero for entrepreneurial growth, [and] ground zero for bringing up a family,” said Vaughn Irons, chief executive officer of APD Solutions.
“Now it’s time to invest in housing, home ownership and real estate in DeKalb County,” Irons said. “Don’t let anyone fool you. Home ownership is a good thing. When home prices are lower than they’ve been in 20 years, home ownership is a good thing.”
Karen Johnson, president of Empire Board of Realtors, said Get Home Now! is “a game changer,” helping realtors get more potential homeowners approved for homes.
“This is one of the most exciting initiatives that I’ve seen in my career, and I’ve been in real estate since 1988,” Karen Johnson said.
Realtors said low interest rates and home prices make for a buyer’s market.
“It really puts someone in a great position to afford a home that otherwise they would not have been able to afford,” said Patrice Duncan, an executive vice president for D&E, a financial education and training institute that helps individuals prepare for home ownership.
“We want these families to be able to keep their homes for the long haul,” Duncan said. “This is going to mean a stronger tax base, economic and community development, and a stronger and more vibrant community for all of us.”
The program, which is expected to result in 200 new homeowners in DeKalb County, is “a part of a larger program to re-establish the economy here in DC,” said Ed Jennings, Southeast regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Get Home Now! will enable buyers to “have the home of their dreams, the home they’ve always wanted to have, without coming out of pocket with those [renovation] costs,” said Andrew Peters, senior vice president at First Guaranty, a national mortgage lender.
“A lot of people just want to sell these properties to cash investors at low cents on the dollar,” Peters said. “What we’re passionate about is providing these loans to owner-occupied borrowers, people who can get into these homes…so that the investors aren’t coming in and offering $50,000 cash for a $90,000 property.”
The program is not for investors and absentee homeowners.
“We need folks who are going to live and invest in the community,” commissioner Larry Johnson said. “We don’t need anyone coming in buying half-priced [houses] and don’t ever live in them.”
DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis said the goal of the program is leading families toward home ownership.
“One of the major issues now is ‘How do we help families acquire vacant properties that are having negative impact on our neighborhoods, how can we help families sell homes they can no longer afford and how do we get the market moving better to help jobs and local business?’” Ellis said.