The city of Sulphur Springs has teamed up with a local non-profit foundation to create a program that will put fallow properties back on the tax rolls while providing affordable housing for low- to moderate-income families.
City Council members approved the first reading Tuesday night of Ordinance No. 2554, establishing the housing program that will use the Nehemiah Foundation to help screen applicants.
Valanderous Bell, one of the founders of the Nehemiah Foundation and a former City Council member, told council members the group, which received its official certification as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation in October, is “desirous of unlocking the doors of opportunity for the citizens of our community.”
The foundation, whose board of directors includes Dr. Don O’Neal, John Cooper, Kerry Wright and others, is a “community development corporation,” Bell said. He explained that a CDC focuses on development, rehabilitation and investment into residential, commercial and community facilities for under-served areas populated by families of low and moderate income.
“We are rooted in and responsive to the communities we serve,” Bell said.
City Manager Marc Maxwell said the city owns several residential properties that it has received through tax foreclosures and other means. Those lots generate no revenue for the city.
Normally, a municipality in Texas would be required to dispose of such property only through public auction. Under the terms of a low-income housing program, however, the property can be deeded to a non-profit corporation to develop affordable living spaces for qualifying applicants. The only caveat is that if nothing is done within five years, the ownership reverts back to the municipality.
Creating the housing program allows the city to get property back on the tax roll, gives a local lender the chance to create a loan package, a local builder to construct a home, and let a family live in an affordable home.
“Everybody wins,” Maxwell said.
Bell told the council the foundation’s mission does not stop at housing for people with lower income levels. He noted that the Nehemiah Foundation also has a mission of financial training for adults, teaching people how to manage their money, for example, or how to become a first-time home-buyer.
The foundation also promotes housing revitalization, he added, and has another goal of city beautification, allowing citizens to participate in programs that will “enhance the constructive beauty of Sulphur Springs.”
“Our mission is promoting a better quality of life for citizens of Sulphur Springs,” Bell said.
Councilman Charles Oxford asked if the foundation had determined what income ranges would qualify for assistance. Bell said the federal Housing and Urban Development is currently revamping data for such guidelines, and that decision will largely rest with the agency’s new figures.
“I’d rather wait until that is divined,” Bell said. “I’m hoping the guidelines will be rather compatible to the guidelines that already exist.”
Oxford also asked if the group already has builders lined up or intends to work with groups such as Habitat for Humanity. Bell said the foundation intends to offer opportunities to multiple builders.
“We have a builder for the first house, but we don’t want to focus on one,” Bell said. “We want to make sure everyone has a chance.”
Councilman Chris Brown also asked if the program would be open to people outside of Hopkins County.
“That is our intent,” Bell said. “The new construction is designed to help our current residents.”
He also said the lenders that participate in the program will ultimately approve the applicants.
“The lenders make the final decision,” Bell said. “We more or less make a recommendation.”
Oxford, however, also pointed out that it’s unlikely a housing program would be able to exclude anyone who moves from another area to Hopkins County from applying for the program if they want to take part.
“That’s correct,” Bell said.
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