MOSQUERO — When it comes to buying or renovating a house in the northeast quadrant of New Mexico, there is no shortage of issues that people must contend with.
They include things like credit issues, difficulty finding financing, old housing stock and contractors who are unwilling to take on a job in remote stretches, given the travel time.
And the so-called “housing desert” is hurting the economies of the cities and rural villages in the quadrant, prompting USDA Rural Development state Director Terry Brunner to convene a task force to look at the issue and try to figure out ways to improve the situation for residents of the area.
The Northeast New Mexico Housing Task Force, composed of Realtors, banking officials, other housing officials and government representatives, held its first meeting here on Monday.
“Housing is something we can actually do something about at USDA,” Brunner told the group, explaining that his agency, the United States Department of Agriculture — Rural Development, has a number of programs that prospective home buyers, banks, non-profits and even homeowners seeking to renovate their homes can tap into.
For example, Brunner said, USDA has financing available for low income borrowers.
Someone seeking a 30-year loan for $50,000 could get a 3.125 percent interest rate and have a monthly mortgage payment of $218, he said. A low-income borrower seeking a $100,000 mortgage would have a $435 monthly payment under that same program, he said. Seniors 62 and older might also be able to qualify for a $7,500 grant for home repairs.
“These things can have a snowball effect if you get them going,” Brunner said, noting that in Anthony, NM, neighbors saw that one homeowner was fixing up her home with one of the grants, so many of them applied for the same grant and also got it.
For banks, USDA offers a guarantee program that all but eliminates their risk when providing mortgage financing to low and moderate income individuals. And nonprofits can partner with USDA by providing credit counseling services to individuals to help them clean up their credit. They can then package loans for the agency and walk away with a fee.
Teri Baca, with the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority, said her agency has programs that can help low- and moderate-income individuals buy a home. She said one of the programs available, the HERO program, provides a grant equal to 3.5 percent of the loan amount to people in certain professions like firefighting, law enforcement, teachers and members of the military.
“This part of the state has some unique issues when it comes to building or buying a home,” Brunner said. “We have to take a hard look at what all of us can do to make it possible to allow people to achieve their dream of homeownership in the northeast part of the state. Making progress on this issue is a step forward toward resuscitating the economy in this area.”
Among the issues the task force delved into was the prevalence of poor credit histories in the area and how “predatory” lenders perpetuate the problem.
Mack Crow, a Realtor and chairman of the Las Vegas-San Miguel Chamber of Commerce, said one of the problems is convincing banks to take advantage of the loan guarantee programs. He said that banks in Las Vegas aren’t partilcipating. Crow also expressed his frustration with how Rural Development has cut back its services in recent years, closing offices in several communities. That’s particularly troubling, he said, given that northeast New Mexico is losing population and losing businesses. The agency still maintains an office in Las Vegas.
Brunner acknowledged that his agency has had to close offices because of federal budget cuts.
“We need to be doing more,” he said.