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Thanks for taking time to learn about how Moscow Affordable Housing Trust. This letter is divided into three sections: Background, Aspirations and Current Need


Background

The goal of the Trust is to create affordable homeownership opportunities for households earning 50%-80% of the Area Median Income (AMI). For our area, this means a gross household income between approximately $30,000 and $50,000/year. The Trust also provides homebuyer education by offering the Finally HOME course, required by some lenders for certain affordable loan products.


Our home buyers are members of the local workforce. They are households with a steady income, who pay their bills, have good credit, and can qualify for a bank loan. Our buyers may be your friends, neighbors, co-workers or employees. They are required to occupy their home and, like other owners, are more likely to contribute positively to their neighborhood and city.


The Trust is a 501.c.3 non-profit Idaho corporation. It is also a Community Housing Development Organization (CHDO), a federal designation that provides access to HOME program funds managed by Idaho Housing and Finance Association (IHFA). A CHDO operating grant can pay up to 49% of the Trust’s expenses. Other general funds come from philanthropy and Developer Fees paid by the HOME program for the successful sale of a home to a low income buyer.


The Trust operates in Latah County, but its primary focus is within Moscow. The Board made this decision because the bulk of jobs in the area are in Moscow and Pullman and a Moscow homeowner will likely have lower transportation costs to work than someone living elsewhere in the county. The cost of transportation to work is one of the three key issues to make housing affordable. The other two are housing cost (mortgage payment) and monthly utilities.


The Trust is not operating as a land trust yet because it is not sufficiently capitalized. The land trust model is a strategy to provide a permanent guarantee of affordability. Presently the Trust has two mechanisms to increase affordability. By rules of the HOME program, the house must be sold at Fair Market Value (FMV), with no subsidy to the buyer. However, in the process of buying a Trust home, the buyer can qualify for up to $15,000 in assistance in the form of a second loan from IHFA. This “silent second” has no payments and does not accrue interest. It is repaid at the time of sale of the property.


The Trust’s second approach to maintaining affordability is house size and format. Smaller houses (2 bedroom) can be starter homes for young families and places for empty-nesters to “age in place.” Smaller houses naturally sell for less. The market isn’t creating smaller houses -- as a Realtor told me ‘you can’t put a cheap house on an expensive lot.’


Townhouses (several houses in a row sharing a common wall, but with ground to sky ownership) are less valued by the marketplace than the freestanding single family home. Consequently, the family needing a larger house can save by accepting the trade-off of closer neighbors. Again, our market is not creating much of this product, perhaps because of its lower sale value.


Because the Trust does not depend on profit from the real estate transaction, it can work in the small house and townhouse niches, spending all of the FMV on development costs. It does not depend on volunteers, rather the Trust works with local contractors and businesses, striving to get a fair price that that will enable doing more business in the future. The Trust hopes to increase homeownership opportunities without hurting the business of for-profit developers.

Aspirations

The Trust has two other aspirations for its work. Energy efficiency and accessibility by people with disabilities.


Utilities are the third expense commonly associated with making housing affordable. The Trust builds to all local code requirements, but they are not very stringent. IHFA sets mandatory efficiency requirements for larger multifamily rental projects and the Trust aspires to voluntarily build to IHFA’s efficiency standards for energy and water conservation.


Improved efficiency will save owners money, but it creates additional costs which are above what the Fair Market Value reflects. Energy and water efficiency are also a social value. The Trust is seeking support to be able to meet IHFA’s standards for efficiency in its houses.


Accessibility for people with disabilities is a second aspiration. Disabilities come in many forms, including temporary ones resulting from injuries. Disability designs are recognized in three categories: Visitable, Adaptable and Accessible. The Trust strives for all its houses to meet the Visitable standard (no steps on entry route, wide front door, adequately sized bathroom). This should allow a disabled person to visit. When possible, the Trust seeks to create Adaptable houses; designs that meet the ADA Accessible standards, but without the grab bars or other special hardware. Anchors will be hidden in the walls to accept grab bars if needed later.


Accommodating the needs of mobility impairment is easy during design and construction and more challenging later. And everyone can benefit from the ease of a wider door or larger bathroom. But these features come at a cost premium over standard construction. The Trust is seeking support to be able to create houses that meet national standards for accessibility.


Current Need

Our current estimate is that the energy efficiency and accessibility upgrades add $10,000 to the cost of constructing a new small house or townhome. In 2016 the Trust is building a one level adaptable single family home. It is also proposing to purchase land for a 3-unit townhome to be built in 2016-17. Assistance toward these three new units is requested.


Thank you for considering how  you can help the Trust meet its aspirations.
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