The Albany County Rural Housing Alliance ‘loves to see homeowners succeed in whatever they want to do in life’

— Photo from Rebecca Buzon

Before: “We assisted a senior homeowner in Knox to stay independent and self-sufficient in her home,” said Rebecca Buzon, program coordinator for home-repair grants for the Albany County Rural Housing Alliance.

ALBANY COUNTY — Tracy Gibeau, the executive director of the Albany County Rural Housing Alliance, was eagerly awaiting April 1, the state budget deadline, to see if her agency would get the funds it needs to help people in foreclosure.

“Hooray,” she emailed on Monday when she realized funds would come through.

She and her staff of three other women take their work personally. They help people who may not otherwise be able to afford a house find ways to buy one. They also help with funding for home repairs and manage an apartment complex for the elderly in New Scotland.

Gibeau put the mission of the not-for-profit, founded in 1982, succinctly: “We want to develop, rehabilitate, and restore buildings and residences in rural Albany County.”

Lauren Bachner is a reverse-mortgage counselor. “She’s certified,” said Gibeau. “The test is daunting; she passes with flying colors every time.” Reverse mortgages allow homeowners, typically seniors, to draw on the equity of their house. She is also a pre-purchase counselor.

Julie Reynolds is a home ownership advisement counselor for pre-purchase issues. She works with clients to review their housing goals, finances, income, debts, credit history, and mortgage readiness and also helps with the application process.

Rebecca Buzon is the program coordinator for home-repair grants.

“We don’t leave,” said Gibeau of her staff as she noted how long each of the women had been on the job. “The mission is to help people … We love to see homeowners succeed in whatever they want to do in life.”

While Gibeau said the alliance’s biggest challenge is funding, another is getting the word out about services offered.

“The need is very much there,” said Gibeau. “People truly don’t know assistance is out there. We have so many different programs and so many facets, it would be wonderful for more people to use them.”

The alliance’s work is funded through a patchwork of various state and federal grants and private programs. And what the agency is able to do depends on the funds it receives.

Take foreclosures, for example. Gibeau herself is a foreclosure counselor and fills that role as well as serving as the alliance’s director, a mantle she took on in January after the longtime director, Judy Eisgruber, announced her retirement.

Gibeau called Eisgruber “the pillar” of the alliance — “a fundamental part of this agency for over two decades.”

“She’s leaving me the best opportunity ever to continue with her mission,” said Gibeau.

A foreclosure counselor, Gibeau explained, helps people avoid foreclosure. If someone has, for instance, suffered a severe illness, and can no longer make mortgage payments, Gibeau said, “We work with lenders and request modifications … If there is no solution — if they truly can’t afford their home — we try to empower them to leave their home with dignity rather than having it ripped out from under them.”

She went on, “If you fell behind due to illness or hardship, we can apply for loss mitigation. If income reduction is permanent, you can do a short sale, where you sell for less than owed. Or you can do a deed in lieu, where you sign the deed over to the bank.”

Either is better than outright foreclosure, she said: “You don’t do anything.”

Before the state budget was announced on April 1, Gibeau explained that money had formerly come from the Homeowner Protection Program, known as HOPP. “It was money set aside from the Attorney General’s Office for banks behaving unethically,” said Gibeau.

Although HOPP funding ended, Gibeau said, “Foreclosures are still happening at a steady rate; we’re not seeing them reduced … Locally, we still have so many people coming to us. We have not seen a drop in need … Funding is critical to our mission.”

Without it, she said, “It creates an avenue for scammers … People will shell out up to $10,000 for assistance and not get help.”

Hence the “hooray” on Monday.


— Photo from Rebecca Buzon
Progress: “We used AHC [the state’s Affordable Housing Corporation] and CDBG [Community Development Block Grant] programs to address siding, extend the roof with proper support, windows, and provide an alternative heating source besides her woodstove,” said Rebecca Buzon.


Senior apartments

The alliance manages a senior-apartment complex in Feura Bush.

The subsidized housing consists of 22 one-bedroom units and two two-bedroom units.

“Some people don’t need a subsidy,” Gibeau noted. “Anyone can be placed on the waiting list.”

She noted there is always a waiting list. “Senior housing in the tri-county area is hard to come by,” Gibeau said. The apartments are filled on a first-come, first-served basis.

Owning a home

“When people go to purchase a home, it’s probably the biggest purchase of their lifetime,” said Gibeau. “We can look at their budget and credit score and give them knowledge of the process.”

The alliance helps clients understand a smorgasbord of programs and choose what is best for them, including:

— The state’s Housing Trust Fund provides down payment and closing cost assistance to first-time home buyers purchasing single-family homes. Home buyers must have $1,500 of their own savings and take an HUD-approved first-time homebuyer education class. Qualified households must be at or below 80 percent area median income;

— The state’s Affordable Housing Corporation provides down payment/closing cost assistance in addition to home-repair grants for first-time home buyers purchasing a single- or two-family home. Applicants must have $1,500 of their own savings and take an HUD-approved first-time homebuyer education class. Qualified households must be at or below 112 percent area median income;

— The Home Down Payment Assistance Grant Program helps offset downpayment and closing costs to income-qualified buyers at the closing. The home must be a single-family house in good condition and not have any outstanding code violation and its purchase price cannot exceed $191,000. Qualified households must be at or below 80 percent of the area median income; and

— The Acquisition/Rehabilitation Grant Program helps with the down payment and closing costs and also helps in providing repairs to the home after closing. The home can be a single- (at or above $115,000) or two-family (at or above $125,000) home. The rehab includes lead testing and addressing lead-paint findings in addition to other health and safety concerns. The home must be in livable condition before the rehab takes place. The household income must be at or below 112 percent of the area median income.

The income limits for programs defined by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development is set in terms of area median income. For alliance clients with a household of one, the 50-percent mark is $30, 250; the 80-percent mark is $48,400; and the 112-percent mark is $54,450.

The figures increase with the number of people in a household. For a household of eight, the 50-percent mark is $57,050, the 80 percent mark is $91,250, and $102,690.

“It can be daunting,” said Gibeau of buying a house. The first-time homebuyers’ course, she noted, is open to anyone in any demographic, even people who have previously bought houses.

“People say, ‘Oh, I wish we did this to first time,’” she said. Classes are held both online and in person, at the Voorheesville office on Martin Road, and at other locations in the Capital District.

A new program called the Homebuyer Dream Program will be offered in May, June, and July, she said, which will offer qualifying participants down-payment assistance up to $14,500.

The income limits are different than those set by the HUD. For a one- or two-person household, the limit is $69,120; for a household of three or more, the limit is $79,488.

Eligible candidates will have to live in the house for at least five years and will have to take a first-time homebuyer’s course. Their household income has to be 80 percent of the median area income.

The first step is to contact the rural housing alliance. A client’s credit will be reviewed. Gibeau notes this is a “soft pull; it does not ding your credit.” Then household budgets and income are reviewed “to show them what’s affordable,” said Gibeau.

The programs are filled on a first-come-and-qualify, first-served basis. “I only have three slots left in the acquisition/rehabilitation” program, she said. It closes at the end of May so that rehab work can be done in the summertime, she said.

Gibeau notes, “Lending is based on gross income, but you live on net income. We try to be the devil’s advocate and look in the middle for a realistic view of what you can afford … We get you to look at the big picture.”

Gibeau also noted, “Housing prices have increased so much in the last year or two, it’s hard to find affordable homes.” She attributed this to the older generation wanting to age in place, and therefore not selling their homes. Gibeau stressed, “We prefer aging in place; many of our grants address that.”

At the same time, there is less housing stock, she said. “Developers are not building affordable houses,” Gibeau said. “They are $300,000 or $400,000, not really affordable for the average consumer.”


— Photo from Rebecca Buzon
After: A home transformed.



The rural housing alliance also helps clients with home repairs, offering these programs:

— The state’s Affordable Housing Corporation grant provides single- and two-family households with health and safety-related home repairs. Eligible residents must own and live at the property and be current with mortgage, real-estate taxes, and insurance. Qualified households must be at or below 112 percent of the area median income;

— The state’s Housing Trust Fund Corporation provides home-repair funs for single-family households. Qualified households must be at or below 60 percent of the area median income;

— Private funding provides up to $5,000 in a no-interest loan to help income-qualified homeowners with needed home repairs. Housing counseling and the execution of a note and mortgage are required. An application fee of $150 applies with loan terms from 0 to 10 years; and

— Emergency home repairs, not to exceed $1,000, are provided to homeowners at or below 50 percent area median income. Assistance is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Julie Reynolds shared the story of a client who was helped, through pre-purchase counseling this year, to not only find the wherewithal to buy a home but to be able to repair it as well.

“As housing counselors, we are keenly aware of the positive results that can come from a prospective homeowner participating in pre-purchase counseling,” Reynolds wrote in an email to The Enterprise.

“It is still a relatively new concept to many; however, certified housing counselors are available for consultation at HUD-approved agencies all across the country,” she went on. “Many first-time home buyers are overwhelmed by the process of purchasing a home and are not aware of the homebuying process and all the decisions they will need to make.

“Earlier this year we had a particularly satisfied client who not only gained a lot of knowledge on how to move forward with her home purchase but also gained valuable information to help her choose the best loan product and find a lender able to offer the loan she wanted.

“After receiving pre-purchase counseling she totally changed her approach to the home she was purchasing. Having learned about the SONYMA home revitalization program, she changed her lender and moved forward with a program that could offer her $20,000 in assistance to renovate the vacant home she was purchasing. The program could also offer financing options for additional improvements rolled in to the mortgage.”

Reynolds concluded, “She had no idea such a program existed and it was a perfect fit, allowing her to have improvements made to the home she was purchasing which she might have otherwise had to put off for years.”


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