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Low-Income Housing Needs on East County Cities’ Agendas : Thousand Oaks: A loan program that enables Las Casitas residents to purchase homes will be expanded.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A program that has helped renters in the Las Casitas neighborhood of Thousand Oaks purchase their first homes will soon be expanded to cover the rest of the city, officials said.

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In its first three months, the Ownership Assistance Program has enabled three residents of Las Casitas to purchase low-income housing, and 10 more are awaiting approval.

And while some realtors have expressed concern about the use of only a limited number of lenders, the wide interest in the program has convinced city officials that it will work throughout Thousand Oaks.

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Starting Sept. 1, the city will offer deferred, low-interest loans to qualified low-income renters citywide, providing them with enough cash to cover down payments and closing costs. A federal mortgage loan covers the remaining costs.

“From what I’ve seen, this program is providing a tremendous benefit to the people of Thousand Oaks,” said Olav Hassel, housing services manager. “We’re bringing homes within the reach of people who simply could not have afforded it before.”

In Las Casitas, a 540-unit condominium tract wedged between the Ventura Freeway and Hillcrest Drive, the program has allowed renters to purchase homes with payments of $600 to $800 a month--just slightly more than they paid to rent.

The prices will be slightly higher for property in other parts of Thousand Oaks but will still be affordable to residents with low to moderate incomes, Hassel said.

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Despite the praise for the program from city officials, some realtors believe more lenders should be used and more information about the program should be made available.

Realtors said the use of a single lender could make access to the program dependent on the relationship between individual realtors and the lending company.

City officials said that while only one lender, California Financial Express, is presently involved, two more will be added for the citywide program.

Several real estate agents interviewed Wednesday also said they have been unable to get an explanation of how the program works.

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“I am very unhappy with the way things have gone so far,” said Larry Kramer, a Westlake Village realtor. “I have been simply unable to find out adequate information so that I can explain the program to my clients.”

Councilman Frank Schillo, a supporter of the assistance program, said he plans to ask the city staff to provide more information to real estate agents.

“I think this is probably just a function of it being a new program,” Schillo said. “Obviously, the city wants this information to be out there so people can make use of the opportunity.”

Those involved with the program said that it is clear, despite these concerns, that interest in the program is strong.

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“We’ve been flooded with calls for information,” said Sheila Frye, spokeswoman for California Financial Express. “People are thrilled that they actually will be able to buy their own homes.”

Hassel, who helped sell the assistance plan to the City Council in April, said that when the program gets going, he expects 10 homes a month to be bought with the city’s help.

“There is tremendous latent demand for home ownership in Thousand Oaks,” Hassel said, noting that 28% of the city’s residents are renters. “Many of these people have been longtime renters who have been trying for years to save up enough to buy their own home here.”

The program works by allowing low-income renters who are buying their first house to qualify for city loans of up to 10% of the purchase price. The loan would accumulate little or no interest, and participants make no payments for five years. After that, the loans carry interest rates of 3% to 5%.

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During the first 45 days of the program, only applicants with a household income of up to $39,900 will be considered. After that period, the program will be expanded to include applicants with a household income of up to $57,000.

Hassel said the City Council agreed to budget $1.45 million for the program because increasing the number of homeowners leads to pride of ownership.

“That means people will take better care of their homes and feel a stronger commitment to their neighborhoods,” Hassel said.

One realtor, who sold a home in Las Casitas through the program, agreed.

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“I think it’s been great for the neighborhood,” said Thousand Oaks real estate agent Nancy Nicoletti. “And I think it’s been great for the people who finally have gotten the chance to own their own home.”

FYI

The city of Thousand Oaks Ownership Assistance Program will accept applications beginning Sept. 1 from residents with a household income of up to $39,900. After 45 days, the program will accept applications from residents with a household income of up to $57,000. For more information, call California Financial Express at (818) 577-0233.


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