Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Houston You Have A Problem

Houston taxpayers could start footing the bill to help first-time homebuyers pay off debts and improve their credit scores, under a proposal before City Council this week.

The “Credit Score Enhancement Program” will give up to $3,000 in grants to individuals who are trying to qualify for mortgages through the city’s homebuyers assistance program. City officials say some applicants fall short of eligibility by only 10 or 20 points on their credit scores, and paying off some debt balances can quickly improve their numbers.

The proposal has aroused critics who say the city should not use public funds to help people pay down car loans, credit card balances, or other debts — even if the slight credit bump would help them realize the dream of home- ownership.

“We just can’t give away government money to help people with their credit scores,” Councilman Mike Sullivan said Monday. “You’re giving them other taxpayers’ money to pay off the bills.”

Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck called the program well intentioned but said it would go too far.

“If this credit crisis has taught us anything, we need to focus on paying off our debts and saving more,” she said. “Using government money to help someone pay off their debts is not the same as asking them to pay off their debts themselves.”

The $444,000 for the program is leftover money from a $1.5 million appropriation the city made for emergency home and roof repairs after Hurricane Ike.

The city has three programs that provide grants for down payments and closing costs for qualified homebuyers. The most generous one offers a $37,500 grant to buy a home that costs $135,000 or less, but only in certain disadvantaged Houston neighborhoods the city is trying to revitalize. Participants cannot earn more than 80 percent of the Houston median income.

Keep reading at Houston Chronicle

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