Proud Ground’s creative system, subsidy help families own home

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter

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<a href="http://www.proudground.org/">www.proudground.org/</a>

www.proudground.org/

The Chidester family moved 13 times in 12 years. Sometimes it was by choice. Other times it was because landlords raised rents or sold houses out from under them.

It was an especially tough lifestyle for Shannon Chidester, 32, who grew up in a beloved family home and had no experience with relocation. Her husband, Aaron, 38, had promised her a traditional life of stay-at-home mothering while he worked in the nonprofit sector and as a pastor. Aaron’s current position with City Harvest Church is three-quarters time.

“We had some lean years when we really struggled,” said Aaron. “But we made a commitment to have mom at home and provide that kind of stability for our children.” It definitely kept homeownership a pipe dream, he said. “We were wishing we could buy, but it didn’t seem feasible. It seemed out of reach,” he said.

But now the Chidesters are homeowners, with the help of a program that’s new to Clark County.

Because he’s plugged into local nonprofit circles, Aaron heard that Portland nonprofit agency Proud Ground was coming to Clark County. Proud Ground facilitates homeownership for lower-income households via a “land trust” model.

That means a big front-end investment of subsidies so the purchase price for the buyers is low; it also means legal agreements to keep the property affordable across future resales. The homeowners have all the legal rights and responsibilities of any other homeowners, and can do anything they want to the land and property — except that the “ground lease” or other legal instrument that Proud Ground uses requires that any resale will stay affordable.

“Because the purchase price is so low, the property will grow in value but it will always be affordable,” said Kathy Armstrong, Proud Ground’s deputy director. The owner can still look forward to appreciation and a reasonable resale price — or, if preferred, lifelong ownership.

Who lays out the subsidy money that Proud Ground uses to buy down market prices? It’s competitive government-grant money, both federal and local, that’s funneled through a number of different programs and sponsors, Armstrong said. Frequently, it’s Community Development Block Grant money, she said.

Proud Ground has been in business since 1999, but it expanded here this year thanks to a $153,000 grant from the county’s Department of Community Services. That money, plus an additional $45,000 in other federal funding, will turn into deep one-time subsidies — $58,000 apiece — for three local families looking to buy their first homes.

That makes Proud Ground the only agency of its kind that’s working across state lines, Armstrong said. “This is our first time over the river. But the housing crisis is region-wide. We’re all part of the same region,” she said.

Still, the county grant limits where the money can be used to Clark County’s unincorporated areas and small cities; it can’t be used inside Vancouver city limits.

There are plenty of other complexities to be worked out when you’re straddling different state and federal laws, as well as the learning curve of partners — like banks and attorneys — who haven’t dealt with unconventional arrangements like ground leases and land trusts aimed at helping low-income buyers.

All of which had the Chidesters in hurry-up-and-wait mode as they pursued a Proud Ground home. There were some serious delays along the way as nearly every player asked for additional legal protections, Armstrong said. The Chidesters said they wound up packing their U-Haul without any final assurance of their destination.

But it all worked out at the last minute — literally — and Armstrong feels confident that the pioneering Chidesters have smoothed the way for those who come after them. “What you’re going through, nobody else is going to have to go through,” they were told.

The new Chidester home in Hazel Dell even came complete with raised planting beds in the backyard, and room for more gardens too.

‘It’s ours’

The regular Proud Ground process includes an introductory orientation session, prequalification from a mortgage lender that works with Proud Ground, and then closer coordination with the agency to apply for the grant and to go house-hunting. Proud Ground has its own real estate agents on staff or you can choose your own, Armstrong said. You’ve also got to take a homebuyer education class via the Community Housing Resource Center, another Clark County nonprofit.

“There’s a lot of work up front,” said Aaron Chidester. There’s also a federal requirement to put in 90 hours of “sweat equity” into home repairs and upgrades during the first three months.

But here’s the payoff: the family bought a home priced at $211,500 for $153,500. Their monthly mortgage payment of $1,050 is about $300 less than their rent used to be. Armstrong figures it’s also $300 less than they would be spending on a monthly mortgage if they’d paid the full price and made a small down payment.

“We own a home and our monthly bills have gone down,” said Shannon.

“Tremendous relief” is how Aaron describes their feeling since moving in on April 3. “It’s an asset. It’s financial stability we can pass on to our kids. It’s ours.”