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Building affordable housing for the ‘working poor’

by Tom Chillemi

A new blueprint has been drawn to build and finance housing for the “working poor,” said Dave Cryer of the Cryer Center in Locust Hill.

Cryer is impressed by “Mercer Place” in Kilmarnock, a 16-unit apartment complex built for teachers, law enforcement, healthcare workers and others, who are among the “working poor.”

Cryer said the working poor have annual incomes in the $15,000 to $35,000 range, depending on family size. “Most of the government agencies have different programs based on what you want. The trick is for lower income families you get lower interest rates, and for higher income families you pay higher interest.”

Cryer said that an “NGO” (non-governmental organization) has to lead the effort that includes forming a tax-exempt organization to borrow money at 1 or 2 percent and get grants from people who are interested in housing.

His comments came at a brainstorming session on affordable housing sponsored by Middlesex Partners in Progress on May 16 in Saluda.

Mercer Place was built in cooperation with the Lancaster School Board and the county by an NGO, said Cryer, adding that when it opened in July 2011 it was fully rented.

Dr. Thomas Taylor, superintendent of Middlesex County Public Schools, said he supports a Mercer Place type of housing development, especially as a means to attract and retain new teachers.

Cryer has another scenario of building a 3-bedroom house. The rent of $550 would pay the mortgage, taxes and insurance and leave $105 leftover monthly to cover repairs.

“Money is not the hard part,” said Cryer. “The magic bullet is finding someone with a Type-A personality that has the passion to drive this through. They will find the money.”

Monica Jefferson, an officer with Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA), helped establish Mercer Place in Kilmarnock. Created in 1972, VHDA receives no state or federal funds, and provides low-interest rates for first-time home buyers, as well as finance and homeowner courses.

Read the rest of this story in this week’s Southside Sentinel at newstands throughout the county, or sign up here to receive a print and/or electronic pdf subscription.

posted 06.05.2013

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