LENOX — Affordable housing and the town of Lenox? The perception is, that's a non-starter, or at best a needle in a haystack challenge.
But an ongoing program offered by the Lenox Affordable Housing Trust and Committee through three area banks extends a lifeline to first-time homebuyers who are house hunting in town.
For those who qualify, a First Time Homebuyers Grant is available for 5 percent of the purchase price of a home costing $290,000 or less. The maximum single grant is $10,000. Up to five grants are currently being offered.
The buyer has to be a first-time homebuyer and the property has to be in Lenox, said Land Use Director/Town Planner Gwen Miller. "But the purchaser can be moving or relocating from anywhere as long as the home they are purchasing is here in Lenox," she pointed out.
Town Hall and School Department leaders have been keen on attracting more young families to town in order to increase resident enrollment at Morris Elementary and Lenox Memorial Middle and High School.
"Lenox is a community of excellent opportunities for residents of all ages," Miller said. "The work of the Housing Trust helps people of all incomes and backgrounds benefit from the opportunities here, and we all benefit from an inclusive, diverse and vibrant community."
According to Zillow.com, the online real-estate listings service, there are nine houses and 11 condos or apartments for sale at $290,000 or less in Lenox.
Maximum annual eligible income for homebuyers seeking a jump start ranges from $46,000 for single individual to $52,600 for a two-person household, $69,150 for a three-person household, and on up. The income limits are set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, based on 80 percent of the median family income in the Pittsfield metropolitan area.
Over the past two years, seven first-time buyers have qualified for the grants in Lenox.
Among them are Chris and Kristie Prew, who moved into a new home in the close-knit village of Lenox Dale two years ago as newlyweds and are now raising their family there.
The grant they obtained through Lee Bank, augmented by $11,500 from the Federal Home Loan Bank in Boston and family gifts, helped them put together the $46,000 down payment needed for their $230,000 house in the riverfront community "where everyone knows your name."
For potential homeowners to obtain one of the currently available grants, there's some fine print: Buyers must be deemed creditworthy by one of the three banks offering the program: Lee Bank, Adams Community Bank and Pittsfield Co-op Bank.
In addition, first-time purchasers must complete "homebuyer counseling" and cannot own any other residential properties.
The grants are made possible by the participating banks working with the Federal Home Loan Bank's Equity Builder Program. The federal bank also has its own grant pipeline.
The assistance is provided on a first-come, first-serve basis, and applicants must have proof of a mortgage commitment from one of the participating area three banks.
Homes eligible for the helping hands include one- to four-family houses as well as condos, but the property must be occupied by the owner receiving the grant.
If the home is sold within the first five years, a portion of the grant has to be paid back.
"The matching grant program is just one strategy through which the town supports expanding housing opportunity in Lenox," Miller said.
The Housing Committee, chaired by Deborah Burke, is working on an update to the town's housing needs as well as potential plans to address it through a grant from the state's Department of Housing and Community Development. The goal is to create a "road map" to create new units or deed-restrict affordable units in town. Miller noted.
The Planning Board will explore zoning bylaw approaches to expanding housing opportunity as well, she added, through its Accessory Dwelling Unit bylaw and an Inclusionary Development Bylaw. Also, property owners can turn buildings into multi-family housing through a special permit, a change approved by town meeting voters last year.
The Housing Committee is also exploring options for the Saw Mill Brook mixed-housing site on the northeast corner of Routes 7 & 20 at Housatonic Street. It has been dormant since the town purchased it for $600,000 through a Community Preservation Act bond approved by annual town meeting voters in May 2011. The designated developer, CDC of South Berkshire, has been awaiting the availability of state funding.
Contact reporter Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.
For information ...
The First-Time Homebuyers Grants of up to $10,000 are available through three local banks:
• Lee Bank, Marge Pero, 413-243-9223.
• Adams Community Bank, Tess Sorrentino, 413-749-1181.
• Pittsfield Co-op Bank, Mike Barbieri, 413-629-1605.
Additional details about the program or the Lenox Housing Trust are available from Lenox Land Use Director/Town Planner Gwen Miller at 413-637-55500, ext.1203 or at email@example.com.
Income guidelines ...
The following annual household maximum income limit is in effect for potential first-time homebuyers purchasing a house in Lenox and seeking a grant of up to $10,000 toward the purchase price: