Mortgage assistance through the HomesFund is designed to help working families buy homes, but as housing prices rise, it is tougher for the nonprofit to aid residents.
The number of households the nonprofit was able to help in 2017 fell to 17 from 26 households the previous year, Executive Director Lisa Bloomquist Palmer said. The HomesFund assisted families in La Plata, Archuleta and Montezuma counties.
“Rising housing prices, I think, are the biggest contributor to that number going down,” she said.
In the third quarter of 2017, the median price for homes in La Plata County rose to $365,000, up from $350,000 during the same period in 2016, according to the most current data available from the Durango Area Association of Realtors.
The nonprofit helped more families in 2017 than it did in 2015 and 2014, but overall the number of people who can get help shrunk.
“That slice of the pie, that slice of the people we can serve that meet our income limits and can afford to purchase a home with our subsidies and meet our other requirements, including our credit requirements, got smaller,” Palmer said.
The nonprofit can provide funds to people in La Plata County who make less than 80 percent of the area median income, a number that varies by family size.
For example, HomesFund can help a family of four making less than $58,650 a year buy a house in the county.
But in some cases, the down payment assistance available isn’t enough. If a family earning $45,000 a year is looking to buy a $300,000 house and HomesFund can provide $50,000 in mortgage assistance, the prospective buyers still may not qualify for a $250,000 loan from a traditional lender.
The nonprofit could increase the amount of down payment assistance available, but then it wouldn’t be able to help as many families, Palmer said.
“It’s not exactly an easy puzzle,” she said.
Over the summer, the nonprofit raised the income guidelines for those living in the city of Durango so that it can help those making 120 percent of the area median income and assist more people.
The nonprofit’s board is also planning to discuss more changes, she said.
“We’re constantly evaluating what we need to do to best serve the community,” Palmer said.
As home prices rise, rent is also going up, so more people look to stabilize their housing costs.
“It’s driving people toward homeownership. But at the same time, it’s keeping people from obtaining homeownership because they are not able to save enough money to cover the expenses that are necessary because their rents are going up. They are in this predicament,” she said.
Higher wages could help some achieve homeownership, and there is some evidence that wages are going up based on data collected from job postings, La Plata County Economic Development Alliance Executive Director Roger Zalneraitis said.
“I think we are seeing upward pressure on wages right now,” he said.
But at the same time, interest rates on homes have crept up over the last year, which also pushes up the income required to buy a house, he said.
“A half percent can be the difference between buying a house and not buying a house,” he said.
There are several different strategies the community could pursue to help ease the shortage of affordable housing, including clarifying regulations for developers and encouraging tiny homes and manufactured homes, Palmer said.
The city’s draft housing plan outlines many ideas to encourage affordable housing construction. It also includes encouraging manufactured home parks. Durango Planning Commission and Durango City Council are expected to discuss the housing plan this month.