City looks for new ways to boost home ownership

Salisbury City Council members began looking at ways to boost home ownership in the city where less than 30 percent of houses are owner-occupied.

During a Monday evening work session, the council listened to presentations about the work Habitat for Humanity of Wicomico County and Salisbury Neighborhood Housing Service are already doing in Salisbury and heard about ways the city can help.

“I’d love to see us do as many of these things as possible,” said Councilwoman Michele Gregory.

Habitat’s Executive Director Molly Hilligoss said there are several things the city can do to help, including donating lots as sites for future housing.

Additionally, the city could create a second mortgage program to help fund new Habitat homes. A lien would stay on the home until the property sells. It would also include a recapture clause that adjusts for an increase in equity that builds over time to reduce the temptation to flip the home, she said.

Hilligoss said another idea is a property tax abatement during development of properties to encourage landlords to donate distressed properties using the state’s tax credit program.

Cheryl Meadows, Executive Director of Salisbury Neighborhood Housing, said the city could develop a comprehensive database of available resources, include notices of available resources in City mailings such as water bills, facilitate some “flexibility” within the Historic District’s interpretation of the guidelines and promote the City’s tax abatement program for homeowners purchasing a property that was previously a rental.

She also suggested the city become a participating employer in the Live Near Your Work Program and to provide information on social media on how to recognize and avoid scams.

Habitat for Humanity builds new houses and renovates older homes, then sells them to qualifying low- to moderate-income families. In Salisbury, the organization has focused mainly in the Church Street and West Side areas.

Salisbury Neighborhood Housing offers low-interest loans to purchase or rehabilitate homes. In the last five years, the organization has purchased or acquired 10 properties, all of which have been renovated and sold to new homeowners.

The group also has partnered for nearly two decades with Parkside High School’s CTE program to rebuild the Rose Street neighborhood and add 13 new single-family homes to the Westside neighborhood, Meadows said.

Council members said they want to help both organizations, and promised to look at what the city can do.

Councilwoman April Jackson added that she would like to see help for the Fitzwater Street area in her West Side district.

“Why all these other areas and not this area?” she asked.

City Council President Jack Heath said a discussion on ways to boost home ownership and how the city can help will be added to a future work session agenda.

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