Rock Hill receives housing grants

Low- to moderate-income families in Rock Hill will have a better shot at buying their own homes thanks to state and federal dollars headed to City Hall.

More than $615,000 in grant money will go toward building energy-efficient houses and helping to reduce closing costs and down payments for first-time homebuyers.

Though the amount is modest in terms of urban Rock Hill's housing needs, state and local officials say it represents an important step in the city's quest to drive more families toward self-reliance.

For one thing, the initiative comes as a nationwide mortgage crisis is sending many homebuyers into foreclosure. Low-interest loans and reduced down payments ought to help address that problem locally, program organizers said.

"We're not just giving people a place to live," said Matt Rivers of the state's Housing Finance and Development Authority. "You're giving people an asset that's going to appreciate over time. You have the opportunity over the years to accumulate something that you can grow."

Under the program, families must live in homes for between five and 10 years or pay back whatever aid they got upfront, based on how long they lived there.

Four energy-efficient homes are planned at the corner of Lige and Flint streets. Once the homes are built, families can expect to save plenty on electricity costs, said Rodney Trump, director of the Energy Resource Center at York Technical College.

Trump should know because he lives in one. The monthly power bill at his 4,100-square-foot home in Indian Land has dipped as low as $39. But Trump said many homebuilders overestimate construction costs on energy-efficient homes because they aren't familiar with the materials and design.

"Everybody thinks it's expensive to build," he said. "If we can reduce the fear factor and get them exposed to this type of construction, everybody will benefit."

As is typical in inner-city neighborhoods across the nation, many homes in Rock Hill's urban core are more than a half-century old and have leaky roofs, plumbing that no longer works properly and exterior paint that's chipping away.

In recent years, the city has gotten more aggressive in going after grants to address the problem. A year ago, the Joint Venture for Affordable Housing, the program used by the city since 1989, was replaced with the Rock Hill Housing Development Corp., a program designed to be more proactive.

Early results appear promising. The number of people showing interest in a first-time homebuyers' program has tripled over the past year, city officials have said.

"We are clicking, and getting a lot done," said Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Pender, chairwoman of the Housing Corp.

The money announced Monday comes from two sources: The Home Investment Partnership federal program and the state Housing Trust Fund.

For more information on housing programs or to get an application, call the city's Housing & Neighborhood Services Department at 329-5503.