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40 win cheaper home in Iowa City

BY CHRIS CLARK | JUNE 23, 2009 7:21 AM

Thanks to a spin of a lucky Bingo cage, Iowa City native Brandon LeFever will have the chance to move with his wife and stepdaughter into his first home — at a considerably smaller price tag.

LeFever and other Iowa City residents filled City Hall’s Emma Harvat Hall Monday while Mayor Pro Tem Mike O’Donnell picked numbers to choose the 40 who would have the opportunity to purchase new homes.

The spin also determined the order in which the candidates would select their new homes through the Single-Family New Construction Program — a $2.3 million initiative funded by the federal government.

Fifty-one people applied for the program, and those whose homes were flooded last summer had priority. But like LeFever, the vast majority of applicants were simply first-time homebuyers in Iowa City.

The chosen applicants have two weeks to obtain a mortgage from one of six lenders approved by the city, said Tracey Achenbach, the executive director of the Johnson County Housing Trust Fund, the group administering the program for the city. The remaining 11 were put on a waiting list.

The cost of the homes cannot exceed $180,000.

Achenbach said those selected for a new home will also qualify for down-payment assistance —a forgivable loan — that could cover up to 30 percent of the home’s sale price.

Furthermore, for each of the first five years the owner lives in the house, the city will forgive 20 percent of the loan. If the family stays in the home for at least five years, the original loan — at most $54,000 — will be canceled.

The house may be sold before five years, but the homeowner must pay the city any remaining balance, Achenbach said.

But for LeFever and other prospective homebuyers, finding a way to finance the purchase may still be a challenge.

Although grant money will help cover some of the cost, Iowa City resident Brenda Minor said, she is only looking at homes she knows she can afford.

“I was just interested in buying a home. I never thought I was going to win,” said Minor, whose number was drawn about halfway through the process. “This is a big step for me.”

There are seven sites across the city designated for new home development through the program, with six construction companies offering a variety of townhouses, single-family homes, and mixed single-family and duplex units.

The city applied to receive funding that would build 40 houses. This would make up for the 39 the city bought back after last summer’s flood and plans to demolish, said Tracy Hightshoe, a community-development planner for the city.

She only expected to receive enough money for fewer than half of those the city applied for, she said.

A number of builders contacted the city after the state determined how it would allocate the federal money, Hightshoe said.

The city received enough applications from contractors to build 190 homes, and officials had to choose which 40 would provide the best mix of homes for potential buyers to choose from, she said.

For LeFever, who had only four hours to put together his application, being chosen for the chance for his first home was “a gift.”

The 27-year-old, inspecting posters of his potential future home, said, “It’s great.”


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