The Times West Virginian

August 19, 2012

Constructing Affordable Sensible Homes Program reintroduced

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — The West Virginia Housing Development Fund has revived a former program aimed at bringing new housing to the state.

The Housing Development Fund, which is the state’s housing finance agency, focuses on providing safe, decent, affordable housing to all West Virginians through a variety of programs, said Erica Boggess, acting executive director.

The Constructing Affordable Sensible Homes, or CASH, Program was initially started in the ’90s and stayed in operation until around 2008, when the economy worsened and the housing market started to collapse, she said. At that point, the program was no longer effective because homes weren’t selling and the whole mortgage market wasn’t doing well, so the agency stopped those efforts.

Now, many people are coming into the state looking for housing. The fund has recently been hearing from industries, particularly the oil and gas companies doing Marcellus shale drilling here, about this unmet need, Boggess said.

She said the agency felt now was a good time to reintroduce the CASH Program in order to produce some more moderately priced homes in West Virginia and give builders a little bit of confidence to get back into construction.

“New affordable housing in the state, it’s sometimes a challenge,” Boggess said.

The Housing Development Fund’s board approved the re-instatement of the initiative at its July meeting. The agency took some time to gather input from the builders themselves to find out what they liked about the program in the past and what could be done differently this time around, she said.

Boggess explained that for the CASH Program, a builder comes to the agency with the location where he would like to construct a house and his building plans. After the Housing Development Fund’s inspection staff reviews the information to make sure it works for the program, they enter into an agreement with the builder.

The builder constructs the house and takes steps to market it, she said. But if he follows all the stipulations of

the agreement and still isn’t able to sell the house during a certain period, the fund will buy the home at between 70 and 85 percent of the final appraised value.

This program gives the builder some incentive to sell the home because he’ll make more profit that way. But at the same time, the builder is not at 100 percent risk to construct the house and get it sold, Boggess said.

“We’re more of a safety net,” she said.

Boggess said the concept is pretty much the same as the initial CASH Program. However, one big change the Housing Development Fund made upon reintroducing the initiative was to increase the maximum house price due to inflation. She said the program previously dealt with houses valued at a maximum of $150,000, but the amount was upped to $250,000 because builders felt strongly that it needed to be higher.

Right now, the agency is doing a pilot program where it can commit to up to 10 houses at a time, Boggess said.

She said the CASH Program could be paired with the fund’s existing Demolition Program, which would make a good fit.

The agency has used the Demolition Program to work with a lot of cities, and counties are also starting to show interest. The fund provides money for entities to tear down abandoned, blighted and unsightly properties, particularly in downtown areas. New houses could be built on those vacant properties to help with neighborhood revitalization, Boggess said.

She reported that the Housing Development Fund has been receiving some inquiries about the CASH Program, and is really excited about the opportunity to get newly constructed, affordable homes on the market and get builders back to work in the state.

The agency really hopes that builders start taking advantage of the CASH Program, Boggess said. As a result, these efforts will have an economic impact on West Virginia.

For more information, visit the West Virginia Housing Development Fund online at www.wvhdf.com.

Email Jessica Borders at jbor­ders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.