NeighborWorks to administer modified Scranton homebuyer program

Register now

Officials hope a revamped Scranton, Pa., homebuyer program administered by a nonprofit partner will boost homeownership rates and bolster investments in city neighborhoods.

The city council approved legislation last month establishing that partnership with NeighborWorks Northeastern Pennsylvania, the nonprofit that will oversee an updated version of the program previously administered by Scranton's Office of Economic and Community Development. The program will provide certain low- to moderate-income homebuyers with federal funding to cover a portion of a down payment on a house, closing costs and related expenses.

"We look at this as a pretty significant opportunity to re-imagine what the homebuyer program can be for the city," NeighborWorks President and CEO Jesse Ergott said. "It's an opportunity to really incentivize increasing the homeownership rate in the city, and we see that as an opportunity to strengthen the neighborhoods in which these residents live."

The program was run for years out of City Hall, but officials felt it would perform better if outsourced to an organization specializing in homeownership and housing services, outgoing Mayor Wayne Evans said. NeighborWorks, which submitted a proposal to run the program in November, already provides a variety of homebuyer educational services, from housing and credit counseling to financial literacy coaching.

NeighborWorks will collect a 10% administrative fee for running the program, per its proposal.

The nonprofit will continue to work closely with OECD, which receives funding for the program through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. NeighborWorks plans to consult Realtors, lenders and others involved in the homebuying process in the course of redesigning the program, Ergott said.

"The idea is to stop operating in silos," said OECD Executive Director Mary-Pat Ward, who touted NeighborWorks' ability to market the program and share future success stories.

Evans also cited boosting homeownership rates as a goal of the updated program.

"Our percentage of homeownership has dropped and we're hovering around 50%," Evans said. "That's cause for concern. ... We need to get that back up in the mid-50s to 60% if we are going to be a vibrant and healthy city."

When the revamped program launches, possibly in early February, NeighborWorks will be the first point of contact for potential applicants. Those applicants will attend a homebuyer education workshop and have an opportunity to participate in one-on-one sessions with a HUD-certified counselor, Ergott said.

"We do (this type of work) every day," Ergott said. "This just allows us to really increase the opportunity for people in the city with the federal money ... and to provide more homeownership opportunities for modest-income families."

Tribune Content Agency