Advocates cheered this spring when Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposed budget showed a $9 million increase for the Home Purchase Assistance Program, enough to keep the program fully funded through 2019. Not as readily obvious, however, was the deep cut proposed for the housing counseling that makes HPAP purchases possible.
Kept under the Department of Housing and Community Development, the Neighborhood Based Activities budget contains funds for homeownership and tenant counseling services. That budget is proposed to be cut from $9.5 million for the current year to just $6.1 million next year—a drop of more than a third for these vital programs.
The housing counseling funds allow MANNA and other groups to offer guidance to residents working through the difficult demands of the homebuying process. A 2016 report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that homebuying counseling and education increases participants credit scores, encourages better communication with lenders, and improves their understanding of how their mortgage works.
Members of MANNA’s Homebuyers Club typically need help managing their credit score, setting a financial plan, and navigating the lengthy HPAP process, but they also need assistance getting through the typical barriers that arise while trying to buy in DC.
Erin Skinner, a lifelong Washingtonian, as well as HPAP buyer and former member of MANNA’s Homebuyers Club, can attest to that firsthand. She recounts having a first deal fall through and countless hours of work in the two-year process that finally landed her a home. (Read her full story here!)
The Council and the Mayor have shown a great commitment to homeownership in recent years through their increases in the budget and loan amounts for HPAP. Indeed, Councilmembers regularly cite affordable homeownership as a top priority, and the HPAP budget looks set to sail through Council.
But the housing counseling funds are an equally important part of the equation. Affordable ownership is, at best, an incredibly daunting process to work through without a counselor, and the turn-around HPAP has seen from its worst days a half a decade ago is largely due to the efforts of housing counselors.
Thankfully, even if the Council fails to act, DHCD and its Director Polly Donaldson have the power to put funding into this important program. Keep up with our blog for more information going forward!