The meeting, which involved representatives from local governments and nonprofits, discussed the housing industry’s warts and how the state agencies can help stakeholders move forward.
The two big decision makers in the room were Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA) Executive Director Ralph Perrey and Virginia Housing Development Authority Executive Director (VHDA) Susan Dewey.
“We thought this was a good opportunity to meet with our partners in Virginia and have a more thorough regional roundtable discussion about housing issues,” Perrey said of the meeting. “It’s been pointed out a few times that Northeast Tennessee is a long way from Nashville and Southwest Virginia is a long way from Richmond. This lets us get some key housing people together from both sides. There are challenges and opportunities in the region that don’t change much when you cross (Bristol’s) State Street.”
Perrey noted the group needed to hear what is working and what isn’t.
These questions got answers:
What’s going on in the real estate market?
Northeast Tennessee Association of Realtors President Eric Kistner pointed out the short supply of houses is driving up prices.
“The cost of housing is rising, the cost of living is rising, we’ve had wage stagnation,” Kistner responded. “That’s going to be an issue going forward. We’ve also had an issue with sellers. We don’t have enough on the market … 70 percent of the houses in our region are under $200,000.”
Dewey asked if many houses need to be repaired.
Kistner said if someone wants to buy a $100,000 house, what if it needs $20,000 worth of work, like a heat pump or new roof? “Have you made yourself better off by buying that house or into worse shape is the big question,” Kistner noted.
Perrey asked Kistner if people need more help with down payment assistance. THDA has one mortgage product, the Great Choice loan, that offers down payment assistance.
“I think you could do a better job with that,” Kistner responded.
Dewey said VHDA has tried giving gift cards or one year’s worth of homeowners insurance.
Do first-time homebuyers need more post-loan education?
“What brings them back, for lack of a better word, is desperation, understanding where they are,” Andy Kegley, executive director at Helping Overcome Poverty's Existence, Inc. in Wytheville, Va., observed.
What are the concerns in public housing today?
David Baldwin, executive director of the Bristol Virginia Redevelopment and Housing Authority, said housing authorities still have old properties.
“I’ve said a lot of times that people choose where they live,” Baldwin said. “We still might go through two and three applicants every time we turn a unit over. … They are in difficult personal and financial situations.”
Maria Catron, deputy director of the Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority (KHRA), said KHRA is trying to transition people back into the housing market.
“We still have over 75-year-old housing that infrastructure-wise, has issues,” she said. “We’ve not seen housing authorities as the housing of last resort but of opportunity. To try to break generational cycles of poverty, we need to be there as that safety net for folks. … That’s one of the things our Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (an effort to redevelop distressed public housing) is planning for that.”