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The irony was that, according to online mortgage calculators, the $1300 we paid our landlord — on time, every month — would easily cover a mortgage on a decent-sized house in our neighborhood. So then why, after the real-estate bubble had burst, was it so difficult for even well-qualified buyers to purchase a home? Our current (or near-future) income might not put us at the top of the list, but we felt we were a reasonable risk.

In September 2010, a month after M started his new full-time job, he decided to look into whether we were now in a better position to meet the criteria for a home loan. He again called Community Housing Works. They suggested we sign up for an upcoming group-prequalification workshop, where loan counselors would go over current programs, then sit down one-on-one with participants to determine eligibility.

(The organization has since eliminated the group workshops. Now, after a Saturday at their homebuyer-education class, participants can schedule a one-on-one appointment with a loan counselor.)

The workshop began early on a weekday afternoon. Since M was too new at his job to feel comfortable leaving early, I did the first half alone. The night before, M packed up a manila envelope with W2s, 1099s, bank statements, check stubs, and tax returns for 2007, 2008, and 2009.

“Take notes,” he said. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

I made my way up to a large room on the sixth floor of the Price Charities building, three floors up from the Community Housing Works office. Four couples were already seated at three long tables; another couple would come in behind me. Throughout the presentation, I sat bleary-eyed while a bald man with dark eyebrows attempted to explain the available programs by jumping between a PowerPoint presentation and a stack of handouts.

M showed up toward the end, and then, because I had been the second to last to arrive, we waited while the two available loan counselors did their one-on-ones with the four couples ahead of us.

An hour and a half later, the man with the dark eyebrows introduced himself as Tony R. and sat down to look over our paperwork. While we filled out a Uniform Residential Lending Application, he flipped through W2s and taxes. He asked questions, took notes, made calculations, explained the equity shares, silent mortgages, and income criteria for different programs. Then he asked more questions, and made more calculations.

After an hour, he told us we might be in good shape.

With the $30,000 we’d saved for a down payment, if we came in at around 80 percent of the area-median income, we could probably qualify for a mortgage on a $300,000 home.

A Community Housing Works chart showed that, in City Heights, we would be eligible for up to $68,000 in down-payment assistance: $30,000 would come through the City of San Diego Redevelopment Agency — an amount that was forgivable after 15 years — plus $38,000 through Cal-Home. That loan would be made at 3 percent, with payments deferred for 30 years.

Chula Vista offered up to $70,000 on a shared-equity purchase, with a zero-percent-interest, 15-year silent mortgage — meaning that the loan would not be disclosed to the primary lender. This amount was available if we were interested in a foreclosed, bank-owned property (REO); we would receive up to $40,000 for a non-REO property. Here, too, additional funds for a down payment might be available through Cal-Home.

“But,” Tony said to M, “we might have a slight problem, because you haven’t been at your job for very long. Let me get back to you on that.”

I’d hoped for a, “Yes, you’re prequalified!” so we could get on with finding an agent and shopping for a house. M was just happy we hadn’t received an automatic “No.”

“We might as well get out there and see what we can find in our price range,” he said.

∗ ∗ ∗

The evening after our first meeting with Tony, we browsed the internet for houses for sale in City Heights and Chula Vista. The more we looked, the better Chula Vista looked: we’d be farther from the city’s center but have more space. M made a list of homes to check out, and that weekend, we drove to Chula Vista to shop.

“Listen,” he said, “we need to stick to a plan. If we start looking at houses in the $400s and $500s, we’ll want them. We have to be realistic.”

I agreed. I loved fantasizing about the big, refurbished Craftsman homes in South Park, but local foreclosure numbers brought me down to earth.

According to DataQuick, 13.9 out of every 1000 homes in San Diego were foreclosed on in 2010. (This figure is based on Trustee’s Deeds recorded for houses and condos at the county recorder’s office.) In Chula Vista, the number was almost twice that, 26.2 out of 1000 homes. In 2011, those numbers would be 11.9 for San Diego and 20.6 for Chula Vista. Lower, yes, but only slightly, and still very scary.

So of course the first thing we did was follow flags and signs to an open house in a neighborhood off of Olympic Parkway. The house was 3500 square feet and out of our price range. I wandered through rooms, opening closet doors, turning on lights, and contemplating paint colors, while M chatted with the agent hosting the open house about Chula Vista real estate.

The rest of that weekend, and the next, we peered in the windows of homes with lock boxes on the doors. We took the occasional tour of an open house. M didn’t like talking to the agents, whose first question was almost always, “Have you been prequalified?”

Every day we didn’t hear back from Tony from Community Housing Works, M’s enthusiasm diminished.

Two weeks after the workshop, M sent Tony an email. Tony responded that he’d get back to him by the end of the following week. This exchange was repeated a few weeks later, and again the following month. It went on for nine months. Tony kept the fire alive by periodically asking us to resubmit our 2007 taxes, our most recent pay stubs, and bank statements. He promised M repeatedly that we were days away from an answer.

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Comments

ImJustABill March 22, 2012 @ 9:36 a.m.

The current recession is largely due to the bursting of the housing and mortgage bubble. Yet, amazingly, the key root causes of the mortgage and housing bubble 1) Lax regulations on Wall Street 2) Excessively low Fed interest rates 3) Numerous gov't programs pushing banks to make loans to less qualified borrowers than the banks originally wanted to - continue full steam ahead.

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historymatters March 22, 2012 @ 11:19 p.m.

this feels like a PR piece for Community Housing Works. Those guys have built some of the worst buildings in the whole city. They are as corrupt as can be. I dont like how this piece keeps insisting its not a nahd-out, its a loan.....That is not true. If the loan is being subsidized by tax dollars which it is then it is a handout! We should be asking in a city and a state that is bankrupt why are we choosing to spend what little money we have bribing people to buy real estate?

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historymatters March 22, 2012 @ 11:23 p.m.

the truth of the matter is San Diego is just finding more creative ways to subsidize the building industry that runs this town so they are using our tax dollars that should be fixing our streets to bribe people to buy the glut. I really hate it when this corporate building industry maffia tries to hide under the umbrella of helping the poor. There is absolutely no help for renters. There is an 8 yr waiting list to get assistance to pay your rent but if you will buy a house we will give you $70k interest free.

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historymatters March 22, 2012 @ 11:33 p.m.

Its high time to round these criminals up. politicians like Toni Atkins who declared the Federal Housing Emergency and helped create the glut have been profiting from low income housing projects for years. Community Housing Works and other "non-profits" will create projects as Delaware LLcs which allows them to make politicians investors in projects they vote on. In other words these groups propogate legal bribary and money laundering all under the umbrella of "helping the poor". thats why there is this sudden motivation to help the homeless especially since LeSar, Atkins partner was paid 1/2 a million dollars to count homeless people and come up w/ a "plan". No doubt a plan that will help her private clients and her wife become millionaires w/ your tax dollars.

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Javajoe25 March 23, 2012 @ 11:55 p.m.

History,

What in God's name are you talking about? These programs are designed to help people who might never get into a house, get into one. That is exactly what your (and my) tax dollars should be doing. Don't forget, once these folks get into a house, they will become tax payers like never before. I think all your ranting about these tax program giveaways, is just a load of crap because you are another one of those cheapskates who do not want to pay any taxes for anything, anytime! And it is morons like you who have lead this city and this country down the tubes to the point we are second rate to countries we once rescued. All this baloney about paying high taxes is nothing but greed complaining about what needs to be paid in order to make this society better than it is.

I am so tired of hearing from people like you, whining about where your tax money is going when the fact is, you and others like you do not hesitate one second when it comes to taking advantage of government programs that add money in your pocket, or fudging on your tax returns to cheat the country in any way you can.

Why don't you just move to someplace else; someplace where no one cares about the infrastructure of the country crumbling; someplace that could care less about who is starving on the street, or dying from lack of medical care. Maybe some nice third-world country where nothing is done; no improvements made; and conditions are worse now than they were 20 years ago. That seems to be the kind of country you want. That is not what many of us want here. Not the good people who provide these programs, and not the people who administer them, and not the people who thankfully, are able to take advantage of them and make this place a better place for all of us.

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M. E. March 24, 2012 @ 1:14 a.m.

JavaJoe,

Your point would have been better made if you had thrown in a few semicolons at the end for no reason.

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Javajoe25 March 24, 2012 @ 11:08 a.m.

I have found a direct correlation between the number of semicolons I use and the number of shots of tequila I've had. Now, with vodka, I go more with the dashes; gin yields run-on sentences; and the demon rum just results in lots of profanity. I think scotch produces my finest writing. Weed: a lot of what I call "circular thinking."

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ImJustABill March 24, 2012 @ 6:33 p.m.

Javajoe,

I don't know if it was the tequila talking or if you really are so intolerant that you truly want anyone with opinions different from yours to leave the country.

But clearly History has some vaild points - many of these programs have had a certain amount of graft. This doesn't help anyone except certain well-connected insiders and crooks.

Sorry, I'm with history. I don't want my tax dollars going to programs that result in complex bureaucracies which resdistribute those dollars by a complex set of rules that ends up enriching a few well-connected crooks.

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Javajoe25 March 24, 2012 @ 7:13 p.m.

Bill,

I don't want people with opinions different from mine to leave the country; just those who complain about paying taxes for programs designed to help others. Yes, some money gets eaten up by the bureaucracy, but much more ends up doing exactly what it was intended to do. I just don't like people who promote a dog eat dog society. I believe we can be so much more than that, and can easily afford it. We just need to get our priorities straight and reign in the waste on such things as Iraq and Afghanistan; eliminate the mortgage interest deduction; and have the rich pay their fair share of taxes.

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nan shartel March 25, 2012 @ 11:56 a.m.

so wait a minute now

are you saying that after nearly 2 years of jumping thru unbelievable hoop you got a house 4 $105,000 4 now???

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NatePoole March 27, 2012 @ 2:37 a.m.

Some of you are so intent on projecting your particular brands of partisan preconceptions and rancor onto Ms. Salaam's experience that I think you may have missed entireIy the point of this story. This couple is not just living the American dream; they ARE the American dream.

Is our system perfect? Of course not, and it never will be. But despite the absurd bureaucratic hoops through which this couple had to jump, they succeeded. And they succeeded through individual responsibility, perseverance, and a remarkable amount of patience.

Greed? Please. We're all greedy, every one of us. And too many Americans from every point on the economic spectrum are guilty of economic irresponsibility that rises to the level of immorality. This couple saved a $30,000 down payment on what sounds like a pretty tight budget. Who does that anymore? How many of us bought houses with 110% financing during the boom? And now we're surprised to be upside-down? No, worse, we see ourselves as victims because we're upside-down.

This article is inspiring and should not be fodder for political bickering. If every one of us were as responsible as Ms. Salaam and M, there would be no mortgage crisis. More importantly, there would be no need for politicians and bureaucrats to protect us from ourselves.

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dthatcher March 28, 2012 @ 9:51 a.m.

I do agree that this sounds a bit like a PR piece for Community Housing Works. Just know that CHW is not the only way to go for these types of loans. The type of loan being discussed in this article is a CRA mortgage. I spoke with a loan officer at my bank who is putting me in touch with the person at my bank who handles CRA mortgages. I would venture to say that many major lenders will help you with a CRA loan if you ask. Otherwise, they may default to steering you into an FHA loan which doesn't offer as many perks. No matter who you get a CRA loan through, you have to take the class. CHW charges $60 for the class, which can be reduced to $40 if you qualify for the reduction. I would venture to guess that no matter who you go through for a CRA loan, you will have to pay some nominal fee for the class, but I don't know yet. Also be aware that one of the worst things you can do is go through the same person for everything: loan, agent, inspection, etc. Most real estate agents are willing to help handle everything from pre-qualification to closing if you let them, but it's not a good choice. Find the best people for each job.

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