Help With Down Payments Draw Hundreds to Home Fair

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, EGP Staff Writer

The focus shifted from foreclosure assistance to home buying last weekend during a housing fair held at Garfield High School.

“Now that the economy seems to be turning around, we’re starting to do housing fairs again,” said Robert Monzon, CEO of the Montebello Housing Development Corporation, a housing assistance non-profit that holds fairs like these three or four times throughout the year in the greater East Los Angeles area.

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For the last two years, most of the agency’s resources have been concentrated on helping underwater homeowners modify loans and navigate the often treacherous foreclosure process, but on Saturday, the focus was more about hope than despair.

The fair marked a chance for people to start dreaming again, and an attempt to get the economy moving.

Lester Meza, right, and his mother, center, attended Saturday’s housing fair held at Garfield High School and found that their dream of home ownership might be much more of a reality than they thought. (EGP photo by Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou)

Promises of assistance with down payments on a new home drew many of the more than 700 people, some from as far as Palmdale, Topanga and Riverside, who turned up for Saturday’s fair. Montebello Housing has received $1.5 million from the State Department of Housing and Community Development to go toward helping people with their down payments.

Those who qualify can get a loan for as much as $55,000 to use as the down payment on a new home. To be eligible, the applicant must be a first-time homebuyer in the last three years; fit the state’s low-income bracket of $67,000 annual income for a family of four; and be purchasing a home in Los Angeles County.

State Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) stated in an announcement that because of the funds, a “permanent home providing a firm footing in life is now possible for hundreds of low-income to modest-income working families.”

“We see that there is a higher demand for this kind of information,” said Monzon. “The state is doing their part by providing down payment assistance programs, which I believe is an incentive to get the economy started.”

This is the opportunity that seventeen-year old Lester Meza and his mother were waiting for. They attended the housing fair because they are growing tired of moving from place to place, subject to the whims of their landlords.

“It’s craziness, always moving around, and always leaving because the owner wants to kick you out, and you cannot fight it because it’s his house,” Meza said.

But when they attempted to pursue their dream of having their own, stable place to stay in – “we’re not picky,” he says – they found themselves getting turned down by the banks. “Our biggest obstacle is money. The dedication and work is there, but when the bank or even the government don’t want to finance you, it’s very difficult to start when you’re low-income,” he says.

Another attendee, Maria Mercedes Tricas says renting these days is just not worth it. “I pay $1500 a month rent, plus bills.
It’s expensive!” she said. She is also worried her landlord will give her trouble because she has a disabled child whose
behavior is “getting worse.” Her dream is to have her own place where she can “live free” from paying rent forever and from dealing with controlling landlords.

Monzon said this latest fair showcased the new money coming in, but first time home-buyer programs have been offered for years, not only by non-profits like them, but also cities under the HOME affordable housing program administered by federal and state governments.

Maricela Martinez, 23, says she would never have known about the assistance money if not for the fair. She and her family have not gone house shopping yet, “but I’m really looking forward to it, and this is a good way to begin.”

For more information on the first-time home buyer assistance program, contact the Montebello Housing Development Corporation at (323) 722-3955 or visit their website (http://www.montebellohousing.org) to sign up for a class required in order to apply for the loan. They are located at 1619 Paramount Boulevard, Montebello, CA 90640.

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June 28, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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