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Families Finance Rural Homes Through USDA

USDA program encourages movement in rural housing market

Aug. 18, 2017

By DAVID DOLMAGE Newton Daily News (Tribune News Service)

After an increase in crime in her north side Des Moines, Iowa, neighborhood, including a drive-by shooting, Heather Trotter no longer felt safe.

Even though she'd grown up in the neighborhood, Trotter decided it was time to start looking for an alternative.

Thanks to a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that encourages rural home ownership Trotter was able to move to Mitchellville.

"It had a lot of history, so it was really hard to leave it, but the neighborhood just wasn't safe anymore," Trotter said.

The USDA recently announced its rural housing program, which has been around for decades, would increase the amount buyers can borrow, a sign of rising housing costs across the nation. Earlier this year the maximum mortgage limit for a USDA Rural Development direct home loan increased to $220,532, a jump of nearly $3,700 from the previous mortgage limit.

Buyers must meet USDA criteria to be eligible for the program. Income limits vary by county, but a typical income limit for a one-person household using the USDA direct home loan program to purchase a home in an eligible rural Iowa community or area is now $41,250. For a family of four a common limit is $56,600.

Phil Webb, a Realtor in Colfax, Iowa, has been selling homes in Jasper County since the 1970's. Due to a population dip in Newton, Webb said every community in Jasper County is eligible for the program, and for years he's used it as tool to help people meet their housing goals.

"It's a wonderful program designed to help families of modest income afford housing, and it's a zero down payment program," Webb said. "If you're out here making a living and trying to do the best for your clients you're going to know about these programs."

Homes must meet certain requirements to qualify for the program, and Webb said those requirements are designed to make sure the home is easy to maintain and affordable for it's owners.

"Mainly they have to be in good condition, be they have to be pretty insulated and they generally have to be fairly easy to maintain," Webb said. "If you look at an old farmhouse you might be able to afford the house payment, but you wouldn't be able to heat it."

For Webb, home ownership is the glue that binds communities and residents together, something that's especially important in Jasper County's small towns. As small towns like Colfax, Baxter and Prairie City continue to grow, Webb said he's seen a trickle-down effect take place that's lead to improvements in local school districts, increased services available to residents, and a greater quality of life.

"A home helps a family feel like they're part of the community when they own rather than when they rent," Webb said.

With two small boys, living across the street from a park is perfect for Trotter. She's met most of her neighbors, and she's amazed to find out that rural living is just like she'd always imagined it would be.

"They told me their doors are never locked, everyone knows everyone here, it's all families close together," Trotter said.

Trotter found out about the USDA program almost by accident. She connected with Realtor Heather Lampe, who works for Century 21, at an open house, and when Lampe told her about the program, she felt like it would be a good fit for her and her two sons. Her old house in Des Moines felt small and cramped, and lacked a basement.

"I couldn't have done this without her," Trotter said. "She's just the nicest, sweetest person, we looked at so many houses together."

When Trotter and Lampe walked into the house in Mitchellville together it immediately felt like the right fit. As they headed into the basement Trotter turned to Lampe and told her, "This is the one", and she put in an offer that day. Sitting in her spacious living room, Trotter marvelled at how much she's been enjoying her new home.

"I feel like my old house would fit in the living room, I have so much more space here," Trotter said.

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Distributed by Tribune News Service.

This story was distributed by TNS - Tribune News Service
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