Revere Housing Trust Hears From Habitat CEO

The Board of Trustees of the Revere Affordable Housing Trust Fund (RAHTF) held its regular monthly meeting on Wednesday, May 10.

On hand for the meeting were chair Joe Gravellese and fellow members Jan Dumas, Laila Pietri, Anayo Osueke, Claire Inzerillo, and Dean Harris.

The principal portion of the meeting consisted of a presentation from Jim Kostaras, the President and CEO of Habitat for Humanity Greater Boston. The RAHTF has been discussing a potential partnership with Habitat and Kostaras presented the members with an outline of Habitat’s mission, its ongoing projects in Boston-area communities, and how it might work together with the RAHTF to develop affordable housing in Revere.

“Our mission is to build homes and create home ownership opportunities for low-income families, which we accomplish primarily through the generosity of donors,” said Kostaras, who noted that the group does not receive any government subsidies and relies on volunteer labor for up to 70% of construction costs.

“We believe that home ownership is the way to break the cycle of poverty because of the benefits that come with home ownership,” Kostaras continued. He said that families have to meet certain income requirements, which currently is below 80 percent of the area median income (AMI), though Habitat is attempting to go as low as 40 percent of AMI.

He said owners pay a modest monthly mortgage and agree to work 300 hours on the construction of the home. They also have to attend a 12-hour home ownership course, which, he said, “Prepares them to be homeowners better than a typical homeowner,” and further noting that Habitat families have a lower mortgage default rate than the national average.

“They are a better risk for a bank than the typical homeowner,” Kostaras said. Habitat owners receive a no-interest mortgage that is tailored to ensure that their housing costs are no more than 30% of their income.

He also pointed out that there typically is a deed restriction in order to keep the property as affordable.

“We maintain  an ongoing relationship with our homeowners,” Kostaras added. “We get many more applicants than we have homes. In Malden, for five homes we had 82 applications. We cannot afford to buy land in this market and we rely on cities and towns to convey property at little or no cost. We’re competing with real estate developers. Rarely do we build single-family homes and occasionally we do rehab. In order to build more, we will have to seek financial assistance from city, state, and federal governments. We need to do so because we cannot simply rely on charitable giving.”

Habitat presently has ongoing projects in Boston, Malden, and Weston, where they are undertaking a “friendly” 40B project. Kostaras offered to bring the board members along for a tour of its projects in the Boston area.

“We are a bank, a developer, and a social service agency all under one roof,” said Kostaras in conclusion before taking questions from the board members.

“This has been incredibly helpful,”  summed up Gravallese of Kostaras’s presentation.

Prior to Kostaras’s appearance, Gravallese opened the meeting with a brief update about potential sources of funding for the board’s work.

“Our scope remains wide in terms of  what we’re looking at,” he said, noting that the board’s four areas of emphasis are on affordable home ownership programs, first-time home-buyer assistance programs, assistance for seniors to allow them to age in place, and emergency rental assistance.

The board also heard a presentation from Lorena Escolero, who is the city’s new Community Development Planner. Escolero touched on potential funding opportunities for homeowner and rental funding rehabs administered by the North Suburban Consortium, which consists of eight communities (Winthrop, Everett, Malden, Medford,  Melrose, Chelsea, Arlington, and Revere).

The consortium administers the Home Investment Partnerships (HOME) program that provides funding for communities to acquire, rehabilitate, and construct affordable rental and homeownership opportunities. HOME funds also can be used for the operating costs of community housing development organizations (CHDOs), down payment assistance for first-time homebuyers, and homeowner rehabilitation assistance. HOME is a federally-funded program that assists in the production and preservation of affordable housing for low and moderate-income families and individuals.

Escolero told the members that the Gateway Housing program, which is administered by Mass. Housing within a Gateway City (of which Revere is one), might be suited to partner with Habitat. The program is limited to 1-4 unit buildings and homeowners are eligible to receive up to $125,000 in grants.

“This is an exciting program and I want us to get started,” said Osueke, who suggested that the board undertake an exploratory committee to find eligible properties. Osueke noted that a property presently for sale on Revere St. might fit the criteria.

Escolero also said that her office is looking at city-owned tax title properties as potential sites for affordable housing projects. She said that the city has hired the firm of JM Goldson Community Preservation + Planning, LLC, to develop a housing production plan for the city, with a goal of having a plan in place by January, 2024.

The RHATF’s next meeting is set for Wednesday, June 14.

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