City loan program gets a boost

July 01, 2003 11:00 pm

By JOSHUA WOLFSON

Without a city home-loan program, Christina Bonetti said she wouldn't have been able to purchase her house.

In 1998, she received a $35,000 loan from the city.

"It got me into a house," she said. "I don't think I would have been able to come up with the type of a down payment that is required to get a house."

Hoping to make it easier for more people with lower incomes to do what Bonetti did, the city is nearly tripling the maximum amount available under its home-loan program.

By using local redevelopment funds to supplement existing federal grant money, the city now can offer home buyers loans of up to $85,000, as compared to the previous $35,000 limit.

In a city where affordable housing is at a premium, the change could allow more people to purchase homes rather then rent, Sonora housing officials said.

"With housing prices going through the roof, this extra $50,000 will hopefully help them into a home," said Kim Campbell, Sonora's community development specialist.

Before the change, the city's Homebuyer's Assistance Loan Program, which began in 1998, was funded with federal community development block grants. On Monday, however, the Sonora City Council voted to use redevelopment money already set aside for housing needs to supplement those federal dollars.

"This is a timely opportunity to use (redevelopment) money for a sorely needed use," Sonora Mayor Marlee Powell said.

Although the loan program was successful initially, as housing prices increased, the $35,000 limit was not enough to meet many applicants' needs, said Rachelle Kellogg, who oversees the program for the city. Prospective applicants were sometimes turned away because they couldn't make the numbers work.

"It is a really tough real estate market for those people to get into a home," she said.

Eventually, the city decided a change was needed.

"Otherwise we just can't help people," Kellogg said.

The just-released housing element of the city's general plan indicated that about 60 percent of Sonora residents rent their homes. The plan also suggested ways to help low-income families buy homes rather than continue to rent.