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City-university group helps employees live close to work

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Posted on: May 9, 2024

By MADISON KORMAN

As one affordable housing program in the city is ending this year, another one is starting up.

An eight-year homeownership program sponsored by the College Park City-University Partnership ended in March after awarding $15,000 to each of 83 new homebuyers. The funding helped individuals cover down payments and closing costs on the homes of their choice. 

Homeowners enrolled in the program are not required to repay the $15,000 as long as they live in their homes and work full-time for the University of Maryland (UMD) or the City of College Park for at least 10 years. Those who move earlier must pay the money back, though with no interest due.

“At first we thought maybe we might need to rent for a while,” Rachel Romeo, who bought a house on Fordham Road, said. “But because [the funding] offers you substantial help with your down payment, it did make it possible for us to buy a house we might not otherwise have been able to.”

The program, funded by grants from the City of College Park, UMD and the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, began in 2016 with the goals of supporting homeownership and creating a more stable neighborhood environment, Susan Slingluff Hartmann, the executive director of the College Park City-University Partnership, said.

“I really prioritize community engagement and really getting to know the communities that I work in and do research with,” Romeo, a UMD hearing and speech sciences professor, said. “So it was kind of an extra bonus for me, to give me an opportunity to live in the community that I work in and do research with.”

In April, the partnership launched a second housing assistance program, Live + Work College Park.

The new program is designed to support full-time employees working for any employer in the city. Applicants must be at least 18 years old and have annual earnings of no more than 140% of the median area income. For a family of four, the maximum eligible household income would be approximately $200,000, Hartmann said.

Buyers can get a forgivable loan of $20,000 to help with a down payment and closing costs associated with purchasing a home and do not have to repay the loan if they continue living and working in College Park for seven years, Hartmann said. Those who leave their jobs or homes before seven years must repay the loan, but with no interest due.

The programs are “able to offer a variety of housing solutions that I think benefit the College Park community and benefit our goals of supporting homeownership and neighborhood stabilization in our communities,” Hartmann said.

Neighborhood stabilization occurs when long-term homeownership in a neighborhood prevails over short-term rentals, and residents connect with each other and the larger community, she said.  

Hartmann said the new program will particularly benefit university faculty and employees of small businesses who want to cut down on the costs of commuting.

In 2023, the College Park City-University Partnership introduced a third affordable housing program, the College Park Community Preservation Trust (CPCPT).

Funded by $15 million from the city, the federal government and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the trust buys houses in College Park and then sells them to homebuyers who qualify for a mortgage and earn between 65% and 140% of median area income. 

Unlike the Live + Work College Park program, the trust does not require homebuyers to work in the city, Hartmann said.

 A land trust allows the College Park City-University Partnership to buy homes at market value, and then sell them for below market value while retaining ownership of the land itself.

Hartmann said although the trust retains ownership of the land, the property is the responsibility of the owner. If the owner chooses to sell the home, the CPCPT has the right of first refusal to buy the home back in order to increase the longevity of the program, Hartmann said.

“They own that home,” she said. “And they can build equity and wealth, and then own that home over time.”

So far, the trust has purchased five homes and sold two, with a focus on Calvert Hills, Lakeland and Old Town, all neighborhoods that are experiencing the highest inflation in the city and where investors are prone to renting out homes rather than living in them, Hartmann said.

”It’s about having great outcomes in the community, and I’m excited that we have a whole sort of toolkit of housing options that the partnership can offer to the community,” she added.


Reporter Jan Carlo Marin contributed to this article.

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