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Leverett opens arms to new homeowners through growing assistance program



Staff Writer
Thursday, July 06, 2017

LEVERETT — Following a divorce in which her husband kept the family’s dwelling, Jennifer Thornton spent more than a year living in apartments while searching for a new home where she and her two children could live.

Thornton said she wasn’t sure she could buy a home, especially understanding she would have to make a significant down payment. But when Thornton learned that Leverett was accepting applications for a new program that would provide assistance for homebuyers, she saw the possibility of becoming a homeowner.

In 2015, Thornton was one of the first three people selected, through a lottery, to participate in a mortgage buy-down program known as the Leverett Homeownership Assistance Program, allowing her to purchase a home in the rural community for up to $250,000 and receive a downpayment for up to 20 percent, or $50,000. Within two months, she identified a home within the price range and moved to town.

“Finding a beautiful home in Leverett where I feel grounded and autonomous and can offer stability and space to my family would not have happened without the assistance program,” Thornton said.

Now, two years later, town officials, including members of the Leverett Affordable Housing Trust, are continuing the program that helps families who otherwise would not be able to live in town, and are keeping these properties affordable in perpetuity.

Barbara Carulli, chairwoman of the Leverett Affordable Housing Trust, said additional funding for the program was provided at this year’s annual Town Meeting. The money will enable three more families the chance to get into homes with a maximum value of $270,000.

“The buy-down program is at least creating a small number of permanently affordable homes,” Carulli said.

The program is also maintaining the town’s economic diversity and ensuring that young families, many with school-age children, can live in Leverett, Carulli said.

The homeownership assistance program includes the mortgage buy-down developed by the Select Board, the town’s own covenant that keeps the homes affordable, even if they are later resold, and the hiring of the Franklin County Regional Housing Authority to administer it.

The housing authority determines eligibility of families. Those eligible can make no more than 100 percent of the area median income, which for a one-person family means earning $50,260, a two-person family $57,440, a three-person $64,620 and a four-person $71,800.

Interested families can apply this summer, with two lotteries planned, one for those who don’t have ties to the town, and the other a “local preference” lottery for people who work in the community or have parents or children who already live in Leverett.

In addition, a new program, the Down Payment Assistance Program, which began May 1, offers a first come, first served opportunity for a zero-interest loan, for up to 5 percent of the purchase price of a house that only has to be repaid upon the sale or transfer of the property. While this has the eligibility requirements, there is no permanent deed restriction keeping a home affordable, and properties for up to $280,000 can be purchased.

Both programs were developed after town officials had been working for several years to bring affordable housing projects to Leverett.

Beginning nearly a decade ago, the town began setting aside money for the purpose, but faced obstacles, such as in 2014, when Habitat for Humanity, which had explored developing a duplex on Cave Hill Road, backed out because of challenges of not having public water and sewer and access to public transportation. In 2015, Town Meeting transferred $160,000 from the Community Preservation Account to launch the homeownership program for up to four homebuying families. An additional $250,000 was put into the affordable housing programs at this year’s annual Town Meeting.

Carulli said she believes the programs can be a model for other towns.

“Leverett is one of many small rural towns in western Massachusetts that don’t have the infrastructure for being logical and appropriate places for affordable housing,” Carulli said.

More information can be found on the town website at http://leverett.ma.us/n/2/The-Leverett-Home-Ownership-Assistance-Program or by calling the housing authority at 413-863-9781, ext. 151.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com