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City Launches Homebuyer Campaign

by Thomas MacMillan | May 7, 2014 4:12 pm

(37) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: City Hall, Housing, Neighborhoods

This man wants to sell you a house in New Haven—especially if you’re a city employee now living in the suburbs. And he’s offering an $80,000 discount.

This man is not a real estate mogul, or a broker, or a developer. He’s Erik Johnson, the head of the city’s housing and anti-blight agency, the Livable City Initiative.

In an effort to dispel the notion that New Haven is unaffordable because of high taxes, LCI has launched a new publicity drive for existing and newly expanded subsidies available to people buying homes in New Haven.

City workers, teachers, cops, and firefighters can take advantage of slightly more subsidies, part of an effort to have New Haven employees live in New Haven.

The new campaign is called Re:New Haven. It features a fancy website, billboards along I-91 and I-95, and posters on Metro North trains. Those new ads offer up to $80,000 in incentives to buy a home in New Haven.

New Haven’s homeownership rate is now at between 32 and 34 percent, Johnson said. “We want to get to 35 percent and north of that.”

Re:New Haven is intended to attract working- and middle-class families to New Haven, people who might otherwise be scared off by the city’s higher taxes and crime rate, Johnson said. Re:New Haven is a way to “re-brand” the city as a desirable and affordable place to live.

Re:New Haven is also intended to attract people already living in New Haven as renters, people who might not otherwise be able to afford a home.

Homeownership is more difficult than it once was, Johnson said. Decades ago, the average downpayment on a new home was around 5 percent of the average income, he said. While home prices have risen, income levels have not kept up. A downpayment can now be about 30 percent of a family’s income.

Re:New Haven’s incentives are intended to bring homeownership into reach for more people.

The incentives come in three forms that are bundled together, Johnson said. Here’s how it all works:

Re:consider

The first incentive, dubbed RE:consider, is no-interest, forgivable loans for downpayments or closing costs on new homes. The loans, for 6 percent of the sales price up to $10,000, area available for people with qualifying income levels who are buying homes they plan to live in.

The downpayment loans carry 0 percent interest. Each year for five years, if the owner lives in the home, 20 percent of the debt is erased. After five years, participants owe the city nothing.. That feature is meant to prevent real-estate “flippers” from taking advantage of the program to make a quick profit. 

Johnson said the city has been able to expand the program by adding local and state money to federal funds. “We have just under $3 million we intend to put on the street.”

The downpayment assistance program is not new; it’s been around for years. It has, however, recently been expanded in a couple of ways.

First, the assistance is available for individuals or families who make up to 120 percent of the area median income (AMI). Previously, the level was 80 percent.

 

Second, the program now includes extra incentives—up to $2,500 more—for city workers, cops, firefighters, teachers, and members of the military.

“We want people who work in the city to live in the city,” Johnson said.

People in New Haven, from taxpayers to elected officials, have long been seeking ways to have more city workers living in the city. The idea is that a cop, for instance, who lives in New Haven would have a more personal interest in keeping the city safe.

By law, the city can’t require workers to live in the city. But it can offer incentives.

Re:novate

The second incentive, dubbed Re:novate, is the city’s Energy Efficiency Rehabilitation Assistance Program (EERAP). Homebuyers can get up to $30,000 in forgivable, no-interest loans to pay for home improvements to cut energy costs. That includes things like new windows, new furnaces, and better insulation.

One of the reasons people don’t want to buy in New Haven is because the city’s older housing stock requires a significant investment in maintenance, Johnson said. EERAP eases that burden.

Re:imbursement

The third incentive, dubbed Re:imbursement, is the New Haven Promise program, which helps pay college tuition for New Haven students who get good grades in high school. Students can get up to $10,000 per year for college, or up to $40,000.

Promise helps give young people educational opportunities they might not otherwise have, Johnson said. “I see it also as a real estate attraction strategy,” he said. Families who are living in surrounding towns and are already working in New Haven or sending their kids to New Haven magnet schools might just be tempted to move into the city, lured by the promise of $40,000 towards future college bills, Johnson said.

Taken together, the three incentives make New Haven more affordable, Johnson said. “This mitigates some of the perceived effect of higher taxes,” Johnson said. Re:New Haven offers “a compelling argument for working and middle income families figuring out where to invest” in a new home.

Those families might now be renting, or they might be living in another town. Johnson said the city is casting a wide net to attract new residents. “We are marketing homeownership in New Haven, beyond New Haven.”

 

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posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 7, 2014  4:23pm

Does the city’s Energy Efficiency Rehabilitation Assistance Program (EERAP) incentivize replacing original wood windows with vinyl or aluminum windows?

Simple weatherstripping and the addition of storm windows onto existing wood windows is just as effective at conserving energy as new replacement windows. Preserving the historic fabric of buildings like windows, siding and roofing whenever possible is an integral part of what makes the city what it is. Hopefully the EERAP program doesn’t prioritize replacing windows over fixing-up existing one’s.

posted by: FacChec on May 7, 2014  4:47pm

I don’t want to be the one who intentionally rains on Johnson’s parade, but he himself said in the article…
“The down payment assistance program is not new; it’s been around for years. It has, however, recently been expanded in a couple of ways”.

Well then if it’s been around for years, let’s start with past results in order to evaluate effectiveness. None available? Okay, let’s move ahead to how much total money is in the RE: pot?  Not available, okay, how much is in the city Pot…please tell me is more than the 500K currently in neighborhood assistance budget or the 500K currently in neighborhood improvements budget.

Oh.. and finally, just why would a city employee who lives outside of the city at a lower mill rate, sell their home and move to the city for a much higher mill rate and lower city services, not to mention the ED system and crime???

RE: They Won’t!

posted by: Threefifths on May 7, 2014  4:48pm

This man wants to sell you a house in New Haven—especially if you’re a city employee now living in the suburbs. And he’s offering an $80,000 discount.

People wake up.You are being sold Snake-Oil.Have you look around New Haven.How many for sale signs do you see.Plus a lot of homeowners with mortgages in New haven owe more on their loans than what their homes could sell for. Long-term historical trends actually show that housing appreciates at a rate barely above inflation.Home owners must pay taxes each year even when their mortgage payments are done.A tent would be a better purchase.At least you can live in one in practically any city.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on May 7, 2014  5:53pm

Wasn’t LCI set up to do inspections that the Building Dept. allegedly couldn’t get to? And hasn’t it admitted it hasn’t reached its own goals?

Why and how did economic development get assigned to this dept?

Lower the tax rates for homeowners, tax the wealthy non-profits and watch the City bloom without any give-a-ways.

posted by: Noteworthy on May 7, 2014  7:29pm

Old is New Notes:

1. The original idea, which Johnson didn’t get behind, was launched by mayoral candidate Kerekes. It was pooh poohed by City Hall.

2. Who is paying for the website, the billboards, logo design etc? RFP?

3. There is a near ZERO possibility that any middle class homeowner in the burbs would move into New Haven. The mill rate in two years will dwarf the free stuff. The Promise money is only good at in-state colleges; and the small down payment will have to be disclosed to the lender who may or may not look favorably on it as true equity since it is a forgivable loan.

posted by: RichTherrn on May 7, 2014  9:11pm

I look into this a lot to help recruit teachers…
I am not sure that many city employees with families will qualify for the down payment, according to

This HUDuser.org link

the median family (4 people) income in the New Haven zone is $73900, so a two wage earner teacher/police family would be close to over the limit (teachers start at $43600). 120% would be $88,600, so smaller families or singles (limit would be $67,125) would be the best fit.

However, remember that first time home buyers that are teachers/educators can qualify for a mortgage assistance program AND a downpayment assistance program, with special incentives to shortage areas and to buy within the town.. see

This CTHousingFinanceAuthority link

posted by: OccupyTheClassroom on May 7, 2014  10:11pm

Give homes to the homeless.

posted by: ohnonotagain on May 8, 2014  8:21am

I will try one more time to comment on this subject. The city taxpayers/home owners in part will be paying for this program. Those already owning and paying very high taxes to live here are now going to be asked to help with this program. I also believe Mr. Johnson must lead by example if he wants people to move into New Haven and buy a home and make such a commitment. He himself should have purchased a home or will purchase a home to show his confidence in New Haven. Although he should not use any LCI programs to do so. I see nothing wrong with this straight forward comment.

posted by: robn on May 8, 2014  10:06am

To me effective homesteading incentives are one of these two things:
1) targeted toward a specifically defined geography of the city that has a chance of reaching critical mass of stability (oxymoron?); targeted at a place that can tip the scales of stability and banish crime
2) equally distributed incentives to encourage homesteading and halt flight (and rent hikes); that would be like a spending cap or a tax hike trigger limiting the percentage of hike at reveal time to something near inflation (both an anathema to the Democratic Party in New Haven who still think its 1968.)

posted by: Wooster Squared on May 8, 2014  10:52am

While well-intentioned, this is a poorly thought out gimmick that doesn’t address the root causes of the problem.

Here’s a quick run down of why so many in the middle class choose to buy their first home outside of New Haven:

1. High taxes, with the expectation that they will continue to climb. The Harp administration isn’t helping much with this one.

2. High crime, ‘nuff said.

3. A school system with a handful of decent schools and a whole lot of poorly-performing schools. I’ve had a lot of people tell me they didn’t feel like playing school-choice-roulette with their children’s education and opted to move to Hamden, North Haven or Woodbridge, when their kids got to school age.

Until these problems are addressed it’s going to prove very difficult to attract and retain middle class homeowners, even with a generous financial incentive such as the one offered here.

posted by: grounded on May 8, 2014  11:05am

Property taxes are too high in New Haven.  That’s a given.  But let’s check the facts for a minute.  In the 27 towns in New Haven County, mill rates range from 20.39 (Madison) to 56.98 (Waterbury).  New Haven, at 40.80, has the third highest mill rate in the county but Ansonia (39.34), West Haven (39 or so depending on where in town you are) and Hamden (38.94) are not far behind.  The average is 31.89 and the median is 29.6.

Let’s figure that the folks who are eligible for this program will be buying homes in the $300K range.  The taxes on a $300K house (assessed at 70% of market value, so $210K) in New Haven are $8600.  Forget for a moment that the appraised value is routinely less than the market value (a couple minutes on Appraisal Vision and Zillow will confirm this fact for any skeptics) so the real life taxes on a house that sells for $300K will be lower than that. 

Same house in Hamden has taxes of $8,100.  In North Haven, you’re only paying $5,900 in taxes.  But your property taxes are deductible against your federal income taxes.  If you make 120% of AMI, your marginal tax rate is 25%.  The real difference between your New Haven taxes and North Haven taxes is 75% of $2,700 or $2,025.  Last year, I saved $2400 just by walking/taking public transportation to my downtown job and avoiding paying for a parking spot (forget, for a moment, how much I saved by not paying for gas to get me from North Haven to New Haven and how much I saved in the value of my time by not sitting in rush hour traffic). 

In Guilford, with a mill rate just a little higher than Madison’s, you’re only paying $4,800 in taxes which, granted, is a lot lower than $8,600.  But you’re also paying for trash removal and septic, items that are rolled into your New Haven tax bill.  And you’re paying for gas and other car-related transportation costs because there’s no way you’re taking a bus or a bike or your own two feet to work.  And, again, the $8,600 is a tax deduction.

posted by: Lisa on May 8, 2014  11:28am

A couple things.  #1, who is the Re:novate program for?  New buyers? Or can people who already own apply for this?  I went to the Re: NewHaven “fancy” website and there was no real information there. 

#2, how will people who meet the income guidelines manage to keep up with the taxes?  The taxes alone are enough to scare anyone away.  When I bought my house in 98, my taxes were a little over $5,000.  Now they are just shy of $12,000.  I assure you that my salary doesn’t match that inflation and I worry that I will be able to stay.  Does the city plan to do anything about the taxes?

posted by: grounded on May 8, 2014  12:01pm

@Lisa,

Your income doesn’t track that tax increase, but the value of your house probably does.  Compare what you paid for your house versus its current market value.  Is the current value more than 2.4x the market value in 1998?  For most properties in SoHu, yep, it is. 

That’s the problem with property taxes in a post-agrarian society and it’s cause for statewide reform.  You’d have a similar problem if you had purchased a home in 1998 in another town that saw a similar increase in property values.  It’s not a New Haven specific problem.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 8, 2014  12:10pm

robn,

Could you explain #2 a big more. Would equally distributed incentives mean to the entire homeowning population, not just city employees? Taxes would be limited through some type of rebate? Just curious.

I agree with #1, though in order to really entice middle and upper income folks into these targeted areas, it would need to be coupled with an effort to offer affordable housing options in neighboring towns that currently don’t provide their share of the region’s housing options. If the impoverished population in these targeted neighborhoods could be reduced from 30% to 12%, that would put them in line with neighborhoods like Westville and East Rock, and the region as a whole.

posted by: robn on May 8, 2014  1:13pm

JH

For all existing construction a trigger would limit tax hikes during a reval to something slightly north of compounded inflation for a five year period. This would take the unpredictable volatility of housing prices out of the equation. Taxes in the past decade should have scaled with inflation.. About 30%....not 90% as they did.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 8, 2014  2:28pm

WS,

You’ve managed to describe the same issue three different ways.

New Haven contains 25% of the region’s population, yet houses 50% of the region’s poor. 12% of the region is impoverished. In several New Haven neighborhoods, nearly 1/3 of the residents are impoverished. This concentration of low-income people coupled with a lack of access to opportunity means that 1) taxes are high because demand for services is high while our ability to retain middle and upper income tax payers is low; 2) crime is high due to housing large concentrations of at-risk people in neighborhoods with little opportunity; and 3) school performance is poor because the kids are poor.

Kids from stable, affluent households tend to do well in school, while kids from poor, unstable households tend to struggle in school. Surrounding towns tend to have more stable and affluent households, while New Haven tends to have more low-income households. Taxes, crime and education is merely a reflection of demographics. Demographics are merely a reflection of historical circumstance.

Taxes may be high, but New Haven offers other cost savings measures that surrounding towns do not, like the ability to function without owning a car (or owning one less car). New Haven Promise also offers savings on tuition for certain schools. Crime is spatially selective in the city - it is concentrated in certain areas at certain times. Most of the city is as safe as any surroudning town. Education is what you make of it - student performance is primarily based on home and neighborhood life, not the school. Advertising this in order to attract new middle and upper income folks can be an important tool in lower taxes, making neighborhoods safer and improving school performance. Other things are needed also, but part of the effort should certainly be to educate and dispell falsehoods about the city.

posted by: RhyminTyman on May 8, 2014  2:51pm

I wish I knew about this when I bought my house last year… The loan to make engery improvements is much better than the state.

posted by: RhyminTyman on May 8, 2014  2:54pm

3/5 log on to Zillow there are plenty of homes for sale. If you time it right or get really lucky you can find a good deal. Paying a mortgage and taxes will always be cheaper than renting a comparable places. The biggest hold up is the down payment(which is what they are working on here) and creditworthiness.

posted by: anonymous on May 8, 2014  3:21pm

Grounded is right. The benefits of living close to work far outweigh the additional costs you might face in a city. 

Given that the number of jobs in the suburbs continues to plummet, and the number of jobs in the city continues to rise, buying a property as close to the city center as possible seems like a wise investment. 

Go ahead and purchase a huge, drafty house out in North Haven or Woodbridge if you think that our current development pattern, in which Americans use 10 times more resources than the rest of the world’s middle class (which has already surpassed ours), is a sustainable one. Or, if you don’t mind sucking down deadly fumes on your long commute to work. Ever look at a map of New Haven 90 years ago? Virtually nobody lived more than 2-3 miles from downtown.

posted by: Threefifths on May 8, 2014  5:55pm

posted by: RhyminTyman on May 8, 2014 2:54pm

3/5 log on to Zillow there are plenty of homes for sale. If you time it right or get really lucky you can find a good deal. Paying a mortgage and taxes will always be cheaper than renting a comparable places. The biggest hold up is the down payment(which is what they are working on here) and creditworthiness.

The reason why you have plenty of homes for sale is that most of those homes are underwater and taxes and crime.Check it out on zillow.

You said Paying a mortgage and taxes will always be cheaper than renting a comparable places

Not true In fact a lot of people are renting Also homes are costly to maintain.When you buy a home, you make a long term commitment to your neighborhood, for better or worse. If you live a city or town with a great economy and school system, chances are your home value will increase.But so will your property taxes.And if your salary isn’t soaring as high as those of new people flocking to your town, you may find yourself unable to afford to stay there.I’ve seen this happen.If you rent, you can move at the end of the lease and let your landlord figure out how to deal with the depreciating property.Like I said as soon as I can get a suck to buy my houses I will be gone.

posted by: cellardoor on May 8, 2014  7:06pm

I completely agree with Grounded and Anonymous.  Of course our taxes are too high, and a real threat to the future of the community.  But we New Haveners lose sight of some of our advantages.  We’ve lived here for thirty years, seen friends move to the shoreline for lower taxes, but they maintain septic fields and dig wells and drive an hour or more each day round trip to their jobs in New Haven.  Let’s assume the value of their time is just minimum wage, and that they just love to drive on I-95.  But the wear and tear on their cars and the gasoline is expensive.  In the last 14 years of living in New Haven, my husband and I have put less than 40,000 miles on our two cars, combined. I often walk to work in good weather, and take the bus home.  Not to downplay the significance of the budget battle going on now with this new city administration, which so far seems very out of touch with many of its citizens’ concerns, but I think that the advantages of living in New Haven are sometimes drowned out by our outrage over the taxes.  Grounded is right to point out that surrounding townships have similar problems.  If New Haven could control its budget problems, we could be such a great small city:  this feels like another one of those topples years, in which the decisions made in the next year and a half are critical to our future.  The good news is, mayoral terms of office are brief.  Ms. Harp doesn’t seem all that interested in continuing in her current role:  maybe a thoughtful and brave candidate can take her place.

posted by: SwampfoxII on May 9, 2014  12:34am

Sounds nice, but who do you think gets stuck with the tab for these subsidies, no-interest/forgivable loans and other freebies? The money doesn’t fall out of a tree. The rest of us taxpayers, the ones who bought their homes at market value and pay their mortgages without any freebies or gov’t handouts.  So this sounds like just another gov’t imposed wealth redistribution scheme, taking from paying taxpayers and giving it away to others.

posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on May 9, 2014  5:29pm

Erik Johnson seems to be playing monopoly with New Haven property and using New Haven taxpayers as the bank. How is it that he can launch such a program without first getting Board of Alderman approval?

posted by: cellardoor on May 9, 2014  6:26pm

Swampfoxll, taxpayers have done dumber things with their money.  This play sounds alright, but insufficient, and does nothing to alleviate pressures on people who have been hanging in there through thick and thin in our city.

posted by: RhyminTyman on May 9, 2014  7:17pm

Swampfox- you are eligible for the reno part of this. It actually isn’t interest free and forgiveable. It is an up to 10 grand loan for a set series of repairs with fairly friendly terms.

Taxes- Three places, the state funds a lot of home improvement loans, two these programs exist in some sense before just weren’t marketed well, and three the LCI has fairly large budget and are one of the most empower agency in the city.

posted by: NewHavenRocks on May 9, 2014  10:41pm

Hows this. If you want a City job, you live in New Haven. Period. No discount. Thank the City for giving you a well paying job. As a resident and employee you’ll be given the opportunity to vote on the budget which will directly correlate to how much you pay in taxes. Join the fun. Be a team player.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on May 10, 2014  8:02am

NewHavenRocks: requiring people to live where they work for gov’t won’t survive a legal challenge.

What is the real purpose of this program any how?

If it’s to grow the tax base, if only from fatigue, we have to tax the wealthy non-profits.

posted by: NewHavenRocks on May 10, 2014  9:42am

Lets praise the man for trying. As more and more attractive housing options come to market, more people will flock to the City.

In addition to the down payment help, a low interest fixed rate mortgage guaranteed by the employees city retirement fund should make this a win win. Then the employee has skin in the game to make sure he’s making a good purchase decision at the right price.

Let’s do this!

posted by: UnheardNerd on May 10, 2014  11:23am

“Thank the city for giving you a well-paying job” 

Well paying job my foot!  If the city’s jobs were all well-paying (or all full-time for that matter, which they’re not), then we wouldn’t need these incentive programs.  If the city paid all of its employees a living wage for the exorbitant costs of living in New Haven, then of course it would make sense to live where you work!  Newsflash, though, they don’t.  Many city employees are struggling to make ends meet, or just simply getting by without being able to save or invest anything in their personal futures.

I think this is a great program, without which, city employees, some of whom are vastly underpaid while others are vastly overpaid, could never afford to own a home in New Haven or elsewhere.

posted by: RhyminTyman on May 10, 2014  1:02pm

The real way to require people to live in the town they work for isn’t use preferential hiring and give a candidate a boost if they apply.

posted by: RhyminTyman on May 10, 2014  1:03pm

UnheardNerd I think your post is unfair unless you post the average median career salary numbers for city employees.

posted by: UnheardNerd on May 11, 2014  12:30pm

City salaries:

http://www.cityofnewhaven.com/Finance/pdfs/FY2015MayorsBudgetWebsite.pdf

This is unfortunately not available in an excel format for me to run numbers about median salaries and whatnot, but from just a quick glance, you can tell that the salaries are all over the map.

There are full-timers who make $30k-$40k.  There are part-timers who make $10k-$20k.  Sure, there are some positions that make $60k and up, and a fair amount of 6-figure salaries the higher up you go in the hierarchy, and those people can afford to live in the city and buy a house without assistance, but until every city employee makes enough, from the part-time meter maid all the way up to the mayor, requiring city employees to live in New Haven and not giving them any assistance, or claiming that they have well-paying jobs that they should be thankful for, is just ridiculous and unrealistic.

posted by: Ravenclaw on May 11, 2014  6:00pm

This is basically a good idea. The Yale homebuyer program (which was limited to less affluent neighborhoods) led to some genuine improvement in some parts of town and helped deserving families buy homes. What bothers me about it is that, unlike Yale, the City has no coffer full of money with which to make this work. Whatever the program costs will end up being charged to the taxpayers (i.e., current homeowners). As the City keeps saying my little house is worth more every few years, and then raise the mil rate anyhow, it looks like what they want is for the last round of middle-income homebuyers (like my family) to get out and make room for City employees.

posted by: Bradley on May 12, 2014  6:42am

@jonathanhopkins

While I appreciate your thoughtful comments, such as the ones you made at 2:28 on 5/8, your first comment is inaccurate.. Replacing single pane wood windows with double pane vinyl windows will save far more energy and money than installing storms and weather stripping. There are buildings whose historic value is sufficient to warrant paying the added cost of replacement wood windows, but most homeowners simply do not have that amount of spare cash.

posted by: robn on May 12, 2014  9:12am

BRADLEY


I agree that double pane vinyl windows are cheaper than historic preservation of single pane windows + storm windows. I don’t agree that the performance delta is significant. What really matters is fit and air tightness.
Here’s a study from Penn State that shows that the 25 year savings from one system to another is $1,300 (50 bucks a year). This is peanuts compared to most peoples total winter heating bill.

https://www.e-education.psu.edu/egee102/node/2025

posted by: Dwightstreeter on May 12, 2014  9:58am

Wood frame windows can be repaired and will last a hundred years. Most historic preservationist favor them with the use of a standard storm window.

Vinyl can warp and need replacement in 10-20 years.

No contest.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 12, 2014  11:32am

Historic Wood Window Conservation links:
http://www.philipmarshall.net/hs/techniques/systems/windows/conservation/index.htm

Check out the ‘4. Energy Conservation’ links in particular.

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