Lenox affordable housing program can put home within reach


LENOX - People with limited financial resources can get up to $10,000 toward the purchase of a home in Lenox they might otherwise not be able to afford.

And that amount could balloon to $24,500 if combined with available federal matching funds.

Now in its second year, the Lenox Affordable Housing Trust's matching grant program offers 5 percent of a home's purchase price, with a maximum of $10,000 per individual or family, to income-qualified buyers that finance through Lee Bank.

"It's a great opportunity for people who want to live in Lenox to get in at the starting level," said Jackie McNinch, vice president of mortgage origination at Lee Bank. McNinch is a member of the town's Affordable Housing Committee.

A maximum of $50,000 is available for the program from the town's Affordable Housing Committee, funded by the Community Preservation Act, a yearly surcharge of up to 3 percent on local property taxes.

If a grant from the town is matched with available funds from the the Federal Home Loan Bank, McNinch said, an eligible individual or family could get up to $24,500 toward a down payment.

The assistance is available only for homes with a purchase price of $290,000 or less, said Olga Weiss of the town's Affordable Housing Committee at a recent Select Board meeting.

Individuals with incomes up to $44,750 are eligible; for a couple, the maximum income is $51,150. Annual income eligibility levels rise for families with children - $57,550 for three, $63,900 for four, and so on up to $84,350 for a family of eight.

The grants are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis and require a mortgage commitment from Lee Bank. If the home is sold by the purchaser within five years, a portion of the grant is to be paid back by the original borrower.

As long as the home is being purchased in Lenox, applicants do not have to live in the town. The assistance is available only for owner-occupied one to four-family units, as well as condos. A borrower cannot own any other residential property.

For a first-time homebuyer, counseling must be completed through Berkshire Housing, the Pittsfield-based nonprofit resource for homebuyers and renters.

Currently, the Lenox Affordable Housing Trust holds about $130,000 in reserve. For this year's program, $50,000 has been committed. Affordable housing is fairly scarce in Lenox. As a result, many school and town employees live out of town.

Of the 110 Lenox homes currently listed for sale on the Zillow online real estate database, 38 are available at $290,000 or under - 10 houses (including 3 in foreclosure proceedings), 24 condos, 2 mobile homes and 2 apartments.

Lenox, with a median home-sale price of $345,000 last year, has seen an increase of 12.4 percent since 2005, according to the Warren Group, which tracks real estate trends statewide.

That's the ninth-highest increase of any community in the statewide survey, and the second-highest in Berkshire County. Great Barrington, with a median sale price of $328,000 last year, notched a 15.2 percent gain over the past eight years.

Only 179, or 7.2 percent, of the 2,473 year-round housing units in Lenox are defined as affordable, according to the state Department of Housing and Community Development. The statewide average is 9.2 percent.

The state defines affordable housing as a unit which could be purchased or rented by a household making up to 80 percent of the median income of the town - which was $42,486 in 2011.

Just this year, the state has resumed funding for efforts such as the Saw Mill Brook Affordable Housing Project, said Timothy Geller, executive director of the Community Development Corp. of South Berkshire in Great Barrington. The long-awaited, $20 million complex would be sited on undeveloped land at the northeast corner of Routes 7 and 20 at Housatonic Street.

In May 2011, Lenox Town Meeting voters approved a $600,000 bond to buy the land with Community Preservation Act funds, repayable to the town on a timetable to be worked out by a still-awaited developer.

Geller said permits for the 20-acre project through the Zoning Board of Appeals would be prepared later this year so that the CDC can apply for state financing.

The project would contain 20 affordable, permanently deed-restricted town-home units to be owned by who meet income-eligibility guidelines, along with 30 other units to be sold at market rates. The affordable units could be purchased by families earning less than 80 percent of the county's median income. Geller said the affordable units would sell for $160,000 to $210,000.

Additional information on the Lenox Affordable Housing Grant Program is available online at www.townoflenox.com or by calling Marge Pero at Lee Bank, (413) 243-9223.

At a Glance. . .

Here are the per-household income limits for prospective homebuyers to participate in the Lenox Affordable Housing Trust's Match Grant Program:

  • 1 person: $44,750
  • 2 people: $51,150
  • 3 people: $57,550
  • 4 people: $63,900
  • 5 people: $69,050
  • 6 people: $74,150
  • 7 people: $79,260
  • 8 people: $84,350

Source: Lenox Affordable Housing Committee

To contact Clarence Fanto: cfanto@yahoo.com or (413) 637-2551. On Twitter: @BE_cfanto


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