By Dorothy Irwin
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer
When Jennifer Ferris and her husband first moved to the area in 2005, they were renters in an apartment complex not far from campus. Ferris and her husband, working for Planned Parenthood and the university, didn’t think they could be homeowners because of the high cost of living in the area, she said.
Ferris had seen ads for the Community Home Trust, and she decided to look it up after driving past a house with a Community Home Trust ‘for sale’ sign. After their first son was born, they looked into the program, did all the training and bought the house within a two month period, she said.
According to Ferris, the process of buying a home through the Community Home Trust is complicated by necessity. After you go through the orientation, homebuyers class, financial counseling and get pre-approved for a mortgage, you find a house that you want and have to hope you’re the first person on the waiting list for that house, she said.
“It all worked out for us and it took some time because there were so many steps, but they were good steps,” Ferris said. She didn’t know how to make a budget, for example, but she said she learned about budgeting through the mandatory financial counseling.
According to Jenna Graber, development and communications manager for the Community Home Trust, the nonprofit works to make otherwise expensive homes in Chapel Hill and Carrboro affordable to people serving the community.
“We have a lot of folks who have to live out of even the city or county lines in Durham, who are commuting from farther away just because it’s so expensive to live here,” Graber said.
“The goal is we want people who are serving our community to be able to live here,” she said.
A large portion of Community Home Trust homeowners serve the community as teachers in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and employees at UNC-Chapel Hill and UNC Hospitals. The Community Home Trust has also sold to firefighters, people who work for the city and county and even refugees from Burma, Graber said. As a nonprofit, the organization does not have the means for a big advertising campaign, so a large portion of its marketing comes from relationships with homeowners who refer friends and coworkers.
The average cost of a home in Chapel Hill-Carrboro is $371,431, a price that is out of reach to many of the people who serve the community in important ways. Homes through the Community Home Trust average about $95,000 to $100,000, depending on what’s available, Graber said. The Community Home Trust has 200 homes in its current inventory, with about 12 available on the market right now.
The development community, including developers and builders, helps subsidize properties for the nonprofit, said Anita Badrock, the operations manager at the Community Home Trust.
“When a builder sells it to us, it’s probably lower than what it costs to build it,” she said. “Then we use state and federal grants to further subsidize the property.”
The Community Home Trust gets funding from the town of Chapel Hill and from Orange County, Graber said. It also receives operating funds through applying for other grants of various sizes.
To qualify to purchase a home through the Community Home Trust, people must earn 80 percent or less of the area median income and either be first-time homebuyers or not have owned a home in the past three years, Graber said.
Potential homeowners go through an orientation, an education class and financial counseling. The orientation is an introduction to the Community Home Trust to get future homeowners ready for the process, Graber said. The education class is a day-long program with more details on the home buying process and what people need to know to be successful homeowners. According to Graber, the Community Home Trust also has a certified financial counselor to make sure people are at a place where they can purchase a home.
The Community Home Trust has a 99-year ground lease program that ensures the property remains affordable to future buyers. According to Badrock, the program transfers all the rights and responsibilities of homeownership except flexibility in resale price – homes must remain affordable in the homeownership program. The community developers, builders and taxpayers have invested a lot into the houses to make them affordable, so the community wants to make sure they are available for future buyers, she said.
“Basically, the 99-year lease helps make sure that the community’s money stays in the community and doesn’t go into any one person’s pocket,” Badrock said. This way, others serving the community can continue to benefit from the program.
Ferris, now a freelance writer, currently lives in a single-family home in the Culbreth Park neighborhood with her husband and their two sons. She is a new member of the Community Home Trust Board of Directors, which helps guide the organization, upholds its mission and makes day-to-day decisions, she said. The Board of Directors is made up equally of Community Home Trust homeowners, elected officials and community members. While Ferris said she doesn’t currently have the means to give large donations, she joined the Board of Directors because what she can give is her time.
“The Community Home Trust is such an amazing organization,” Ferris said, “they do such good work on the ground in our community that I wanted to give everything back that I could.”
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