Ogden program reclaims houses and helps build families
Ogden • Three-year-old Penny Olsen's best gift this Christmas is wrapped around the beautifully adorned tree that sparkles in her new living room.
Her parents Dustin and Meghan stood Wednesday within the freshly painted walls of a refurbished bungalow on Van Buren Street in east Ogden, part of a unique city program that has rehabilitated and resold 100 homes since 2005.
A cause for celebration to Ogden city officials, that 100th home means a lot more to the Olsen clan.
"It means we can start a family," said Meghan, who, like her husband, is a student at Weber State University. "It means our daughter has a solid place to grow up."
The 2,100 square foot, red-bricked house a few blocks from historic Ogden High School falls within an Asset Control Area, targeted for revitalization in a city partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD.
The worst of Utah's recent foreclosure crisis saw thousands of residential properties from Brigham City to St. George dumped onto housing markets, with little prospect of resale at the time. Their combined effect blighted many areas as the economic downturn dragged on, further depressing already-falling property values.
HUD, which insures mortgages issued by its Federal Housing Administration, reluctantly took ownership of large numbers of the stagnant properties.
But in the only city-operated program of its kind in Utah, Ogden's community development division has purchased scores of those HUD homes, at a 50 percent discount. It then uses cash from city coffers, a line of credit from GE Capital Retail Bank and federal financing to overhaul them and put them back up for sale.
"We're reclaiming homes," Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell said, "and sometimes these are some of the worst homes on the block."
Qualifying buyers like the Olsens Â typically first-time homeowners with moderate incomes receive a no-interest $5,000 down payment loan, due when they sell the property years later.
"Our goal is to get an owner in that home," said Ward Ogden, the city's deputy manager of community development. He said HUD-sponsored aid through the program had amounted to $3.6 million over eight years.
"Without that, we could not do this," Ogden said.
By reducing HUD inventories of foreclosed properties, "it makes our job easier," said Kelly Jorgensen, director of HUD's field office in Salt Lake City.
While meeting HUD's mission of promoting home ownership, Jorgensen said, the program has also provided economic opportunity to construction contractors, real estate agents and title companies as they've weathered the housing bust.
Salt Lake City has a similar program, operated by the non-profit Community Development Corporation of Utah.
Federal rules require Ogden to take all HUD foreclosures within the area's designated boundaries, which encompass portions of east central Ogden spanned roughly by 20th and 36th Streets between Harrison and Monroe.
Properties are renovated to comply with local building codes, but the program also provides for curb appeal. Exterior upgrades and landscaping often have a knock-on effect of beautifying entire streets and fostering pride among existing residents.
The mayor and other officials said the ACA has lessened some of the worst effects of the recession and in turn, strengthened the city as a whole.
"We in government and the private sector all have a responsibility to take care of our community," said Ogden City Council member Neil Garner, who called the new Olsen residence "a wonderful pearl."
"I'm just really happy that we're able to do this for young families and put them in a home like this," Garner said.
After playfully exploring her future bedroom, Penny toddled back to the living room, jumped into Mom's arms and watched the mayor hand them front door keys.
"Welcome," Caldwell said. "We're thrilled to have you in the neighborhood."