Monday night’s Bangor City Council meeting should be all about preserving the home advantage. That’s when councilors are expected to vote on three programs to increase home ownership. We hope the decision before them will be easy: Let’s help new, young and low- and middle-income residents be able to buy their homes, and let’s do it in a smart way.
Here are the three potential programs up for consideration:
1. The First Time Homebuyer Credit Enhancement Program. After new homeowners buy and renovate a fixer-upper, the program would return 75 percent of the tax on the new value of the home to the new owners. In the West Side Village, which stretches from Main Street to Third Street and Buck Street to Union Street, and includes many of the city’s fixer-uppers, 100 percent would be returned. The rebate, funded with city dollars, could repeat for five years, if recipients meet conditions of the program.
2. Closing Cost Assistance Program. Funded with federal dollars from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the program would cover the closing costs associated with the purchase of a new home, up to $3,000. Those who are eligible — who earn a maximum of 80 percent of the area’s median income and are purchasing a single-family dwelling that costs less than $271,050 — can apply to the city and get a check to help cover the costs of things like recording fees, title searches and appraisal fees.
3. Down Payment Assistance Program. Also funded by the federal government, approved applicants with moderate incomes would get half of their down payment covered, up to $5,000. Under this program, and the previous one, the owners must live in their new home for at least five consecutive years. If they don’t, they must pay back the money they saved.
Buying any home, let alone one that needs a lot of work, is a big decision. Programs like these could help smooth the way for them to choose Bangor as their new home base, as opposed to neighboring towns. And with some of the oldest housing stock in the nation, many Maine homes could use a lot of upgrading.
The danger with incentives is that they aren’t targeted enough — and end up helping people who would have bought the house regardless of whether the rebate existed. That’s why it’s encouraging to see a review included in these proposals; the council would re-examine them in a year, to gauge their impact and value.
In the end, encouraging people to buy homes is one part of an economic and community development strategy. The ripple effect spreads across an area — to mortgage lenders, real estate agents, inspectors, furniture and hardware stores, carpenters, roofers, movers and painters. And research shows the positive correlation between being a homeowner and a happy, healthy, involved citizen.
Not only do homeowners gain from their property’s equity, they are more likely to participate in community groups, feel more stable and in control of their environment, and participate more in political life. Being able to buy a home is seen as an accomplishment, which has even been shown to boost self-satisfaction.
The city doesn’t have much to lose by trying out these creative programs and re-evaluating in a year.