(PRWEB) May 5, 2005
Intelligence, experience, passion, and resolve helped snatch the little North Carolina town of Troy from the grips of slum lords.
It wasnÂt as easy as A, B, C, but the townÂs innovative Rent-To-Own Housing Program began with a letter.
The letter came from lifetime Troy resident Easter Butler.
Dear Mayor Maness:
All my life I have wanted to own my own home. I have a low income but I have worked my whole life. Can you help me?
Roy Maness, a former CEO of W. H Weaver Construction Company, one of the largest builders in the Southeast, had made a career of problem solving. Logistic, economic, social, political...you name it Maness had handled it.
ÂI was used to being confronted with difficult situations,Â Maness said. ÂIÂd learned that sometimes the solution can spill over and become a positive for other issues that need resolve as well.Â
And so it went.
The letter would not only bring a residentÂs personal issue to the attention of an elected official. It would serve as an important reminder for Maness of a social problem, one threatening Troy and practically every other town in America.
Slum lords, a.k.a., absentee owners, were skip roping through HUD (Housing, Urban and Development) loopholes, using government appropriated funds to create and maintain substandard housing. The result for towns like Troy? Undesirable residents, high crime communities and a low tax base.
ÂItÂs like a cancer,Â the mayor said. ÂThe rent is either subsidized in full or part. Substandard housing is constructed or rented. Bad people move in. Good people move out. It can ruin a town.Â
Somewhere in that ÂbuildingÂ background the Mayor had learned to go to the powers that be... not with a problem but with a solution. ThatÂs what he took to his town board, a plan based on pride and filled with hope, one that would not only potentially make Troy slum lord free but a concept that would help the Easter Butlers of the townÂgood, hard working, law abiding citizensÂown their very first home.
Fact! Troy was in need of revitalization and redevelopment. The first target that Maness and his board took aim on was a former textile mill housing community, a run-down area that has since been renamed Smitherman Village.
ÂWe wanted to recognize the mill that created it and signify a new beginning.Â Maness said.
It took a bit of bureaucracy to drive Smitherman VillageÂs first nail. The town board formed the Troy Redevelopment Commission that would partner with the Troy Housing Authority, Montgomery County Department of Social Services, and the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service.
ÂBureaucracy and partnerships were key but you have to have a non-profit that understands how the private sector works and perhaps more importantly how it wonÂt work.Â Maness said. ÂSo a separate, not-for-profit community development corporation called the Troy Neighborhood Redevelopment Corporation (TNRC) was commissioned by the town to act as the redeveloper for the project.Â
A key to this plan would come in the TNRCÂs charge to administer this unique Rent-To-Own program. And the TNC never lost sight of the people, the pride, hope and improved living conditions that this revitalization and redevelopment could bring to TroyÂs citizens.
Along with this came support from Congressman Robin Hayes of North CarolinaÂs eighth district. The result was the groundwork for a program that is now about a roof raising away from being a national model for home ownership and revitalization.
Baby steps: Armed with federal (HUD) and state grants exceeding $1.5 million Maness and the TNC lawyered up and moved the slum lords out. By calling on state statutes they legally declared the blighted area of town a redevelopment area. ÂThis along with the grant money was key. It allowed us to seize and buy run-down housing. During the first phase we claimed and purchased in excess of twenty properties,Â said Maness.
Now the TNRCÂs hammer was poised and suddenly ringing. The first four houses are stick-built construction, three bedroom and two bath units, and are approximately 1,200 feet in size. They are all built with low-maintenance materialsÂbrick, vinyl siding.
But, according to Maness, as important as these land acquisitions were, the key to TroyÂs Rent-To-Own program wouldnÂt be found in the land, the bricks or the mortar. The pass-fail for this test would be in the participants of the Rent- To-Qwn program.
Would the corporationÂs screening, selection, and guidance of this low cost rent-to-own housing (approximately 30 percent of the participants income) bring about resident performance that would prove the mayor right?
The programÂs controls clearly weight the odds of success in the TNRCÂs favor. Participants enter the program on a trial basis. Those who could not comply with the programÂs guidelines are weeded out. The rules insist on a set minimum income ($10,300), a repairable credit history, and no detrimental criminal history.
All of this and then six months of mandatory Âhow to be a homeownerÂ classes. A built in home counselor not only oversees the upkeep of the home but advises the programÂs owners on everything from family budgeting, banking and finance to credit and insurance.
ÂThatÂs the first six months, during the rental period,Â said Maness, ÂIf they pass the muster and move into the homeowners phase the counselor focuses on housekeeping, house maintenance, homeowership and how to be a good neighbor and citizen.Â
Oh, and just when one might think that the entire genius of this small townÂs genie is out of the bottle! More safeguards, all solidly in place to ensure the programÂs success: restrictions on the property for the life of the mortgage to prevent future problems with a homeowner, and a homeowners association overseeing property appearance, homeowners conduct, and maintenance of the residence.
ÂShould a home owner find themselves financially strapped during the life of the loan thereÂs a fund built into the program, one that an owner can apply for. It enables them keep their house up to the associationÂs standards,Â Maness said.
There was a day when a car ride through the ÂSmitherton VillageÂ side of town had the mayor ducking for cover. ÂThis was a rough area of town. You would have been afraid to walk from one corner to the next,Â he said.
Now Maness and his assistants Johnny Wear, the town planner and director of the TNC, and Ron Niland, consultant, interim town manager, make this rideÂday and nightÂwith pride. As the mayorÂs vehicle takes a turn onto Smitherton Street, Niland summarizes TroyÂs Rent-To-Own program, making the points that separate TroyÂs program from other U.S. moderate cost housing ventures.
ÂFirst and foremost are the controls. They stay with the house and are governed through the homeowners association and the deed restrictions. Secondly we have a certified housing counselor. Through government grants and the home ownerÂs payments weÂve been able to fund a salaried housing counselor, a professional, a neighborhood advocate, an advisor and helper to those folks who are so desperately want to succeed as homeowners. This isnÂt for a year or so, itÂs for the life of the mortgage, Â Niland said.
The third and equally important component separating TroyÂs Rent-To-Own program from other low-cost housing programs is the $5,000 component built into every homeÂs loan. This feature serves as a maintenance fund.
Maness again: ÂMany of the folks live from paycheck to paycheck. This is just another safeguard, one that not only helps maintain the property but the hope and pride of the residents of Troy who Rent-To-Own.Â