By Stefanie Jackson – The Eastern Shore again will have a representative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development office to help low-income Accomack and Northampton County families purchase or repair new or existing homes, thanks to Congresswoman Elaine Luria’s team.
“For too long, Eastern Shore residents were unable to receive professional help with federal loans for affordable housing and home repair, which is why I remain a strong proponent for this position,” Luria said in a Dec. 5 press release.
The Eastern Shore had a USDA Rural Development representative who retired and was never replaced, but Luria has been working with USDA to correct the problem since it was brought to her attention by constituents, including Ava Gabrielle-Wise, director of the Eastern Shore Regional Housing Coalition.
“The return of the USDA Rural Development office to this region after being absent for so many years fills an extremely important gap in housing services on the Shore,” Gabrielle-Wise said.
“For many seniors who are in dire need of resources to repair homes and families who wouldn’t otherwise qualify for a conventional mortgage, this may be the difference between living in substandard housing and a safe, quality home.
“Many thanks to Congresswoman Luria for her advocacy and support … and her continued efforts in the very important cause of housing on the Shore,” Gabrielle-Wise said.
USDA Rural Development’s acting director in Virginia, Terry Rosta, announced the new single-family housing specialist position.
“We have initiated the recruitment for this position, which includes the requirement to live and work side by side with our customers, continuing our commitment to provide the best possible service to our rural customers and their communities,” he said.
USDA Rural Development will be able to serve the Eastern Shore every day. USDA has an office in Accomac, but it provides services only for farming and natural resource conservation.
Accomack and Northampton residents who request service from USDA Rural Development are referred to the USDA office in Courtland, Va., which is approximately 130 miles from Accomac, or about a 2.5-hour drive.
Reinstating the USDA housing specialist position on the Eastern Shore will make obtaining or maintaining safe, affordable housing within easier reach for low-income families in Accomack and Northampton.
USDA Rural Development’s top offerings are its Section 502 Direct Loan Program and Section 504 Home Repair Program.
Section 502 offers longterm, low-interest home loans. Loan terms range between 30 and 38 years, and interest rates vary from 1% to 2.5%.
USDA requires that the home being purchased has less than 2,000 square feet of living space, is in a rural area, and is on a lot of one acre or less.
The loan applicant must maintain a stable income for at least two years, and a minimum credit score of 640 is preferred.
An applicant must be prepared to spend 29% to 33% of monthly income on a home loan.
Section 504 offers grants up to $7,500 and loans up to $20,000 for home repair. An applicant must be age 62 or older to qualify for a grant; others may apply for a loan.
Some applicants will qualify for both a grant and a loan, which can be combined for up to $27,500 in financial assistance.
The grants may be used only for removing health and safety hazards; the loans may be used for other repairs and improvements.
An applicant must own and occupy the home, have a family income below 50% of the area median income, and be unable to obtain credit elsewhere.
The home repair loan can be repaid over 20 years, with a 1% interest rate.
For more information on USDA Rural Development single-family housing programs, contact Jeanie Barbrow at [email protected] or 804-287-1616.