Housing Deals with the Devil

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There's a tool to tell the story about someone with some decent level of talent, maybe a blues guitar player, who comes to a crossroads and meets the Devil. The Devil makes an offer that so far no one else has presented, fame, fortune, the ability to be the best bluesman in the Mississippi Delta, and whatever the mortal wants, in exchange for the person's soul.

I was thinking of that yesterday when reading Courtland Milloy's article in the Post, Affordable-housing zones' rules are an affront to King's dream. The problem are the various programs to help put people into homes, in exchange for what later is their peace of mind. One example in the article is a woman who bought a condo in Columbia Heights with the assistance of an inclusionary zoning program, which she has recently discovered won't let her easily out of the condo now that the condo fees have shot up from $284 to $520 a month and housing is eating up half her take home pay. Legally she can't put it on the market because the city wants her to stay in the home 20 years. So she may lose her home to foreclosure and deal with whatever consequences the bank and city throws at her.

Legally she can't but I say go ahead and sell and get into a more sustainable housing situation. The reason I say this is my own deal with the Devil, that as far as I'm concerned is no longer valid and my 10 years are up. When I got my house, I took out a loan with Countrywide through the DC Housing Finance Agency. Why? They were offering 4% loans when everyone else was doing 6-8% loans. And that plus some tax forebearance thing (which ended around year 3 or 4 for me) were the only things I got from the city related to my moderate-low income. I understood that I was to stay in my home for 10 years or pay a penalty related to the amount of equity if the house was sold. Year 10, I'm done but I get a letter from the city asking me to confirm I'm still in the home and something about a deal I didn't sign up for. I called to try to straighten up the matter and discovered that others have sold their homes and ignored the city's wishes. Also the city is under the false impression that I received down payment assistance, which I did not, but they are going to keep sending me forms every year for the next 5 to 10 years. So they aren't really enforcing the restrictive rules, so condo woman should try to sell anyway.

If these sorts of programs are to fight gentrification by "helping" lower income folks get into homes, these programs should try to figure out how are participants supposed to deal with stuff down the road such as rising condo fees (when do they not rise?), expensive maintenance problems like roofs, furnaces, CAC systems, busted underground pipes, and other things that usually cost several thousand dollars to fix. I guess they think participants will build up a huge savings somewhere, but if they were able to do that, they might not need the government's help to get a house in the first place.

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