We now join, in progress, a chat between a bank loan officer and a young La Plata County couple.
“You want to buy a home? You're how old? You serious?”
End of story, right?
For young couples starting out here, there's hardly a chance at homeownership. Unless ...
Unless, say, you have a rich uncle. Or a reasonable facsimile. Actually, that might not be as far-fetched as you think.
“Rich uncle” is how Durango couple Thomas Gibson and Tasha Goslow refer to the Regional Housing Alliance of La Plata County, which saw them through the recent purchase of a Durango home. The RHA, for them, was that magical benefactor that wrote them a $15,000 check.
“Take this and pay me back when it's all said and done,” Gibson says, voicing the “rich uncle.”
Gibson, 25, and Goslow, 23, are sitting on the comfy couch of their three-story Canyon Terrace condo. Through the sliding glass door to their right, Smelter Mountain tops adjacent condos. Canyon Terrace is next to New Country Auto and abuts Bureau of Land Management land where the couple take their 4½-year-old dog, Guinness.
“It's a great start for us,” Gibson says of the $220,000 condo. “I think that's the American Dream, is buying a home as a young couple. It changes your love for each other, too. ... Strengthens it.”
The Regional Housing Alliance formed in 2004, a grass-roots movement led by locals alarmed by skyrocketing housing prices and the difficulty “average” families face in buying a home here. Primary funding comes from La Plata County. Municipalities also chip in, and BP and Durango Mountain Resort have been two of the RHA's major grantors.
Jennifer Lopez arrived from Santa Fe to became RHA's director in 2006. She's been busy since, constantly restocking the agency's coffers so it can play rich uncle, or auntie, as the case may be.
The RHA helps prospective homebuyers in several ways. The big one is providing what's called a second mortgage. The second mortgage provides money for a down payment and closing costs. It's a loan from RHA to the buyer, but it doesn't have to be paid back until the house is sold or refinanced or paid off.
In the last two years, the RHA has provided second mortgages to nearly 60 families making between $30,000 to $80,000 a year.
The process works this way: Potential clients come in and talk to Jason Ragsdale, the RHA's client services adviser. He lays out the parameters, talks about credit score, gets a “snapshot” of their financial situation. Some clients take two or three years before they qualify, Ragsdale says.
He also signs them up for an RHA-run homebuying class if they appear to be ready. The class is helpful to anyone buying a home, whether they ultimately go through the RHA or not.
Gibson is a North Carolina native who works as quality-assurance supervisor for Avflight, the fixed-base operator for private and general aviation at the Durango-La Plata County Airport. Goslow (that's pronounced GOZ-low, the former Fort Lewis College soccer recruit emphasizes) is an Albuquerque native who works as coach/counselor at DeNier Youth Services, a juvenile detention center in Bodo Industrial Park.
Rather than pay $1,000 a month for a tiny apartment, they thought, why not build equity and reap the tax benefits and other benefits from owning? (It probably goes without saying that not all young couples' minds work this way.)
Gibson had heard about RHA through a co-worker, and the young couple decided to give it a shot. They gush about RHA, but it's sincere.
“They just really went up to bat for us,” Goslow says. “It was just a team on our side. ... It's heartwarming how far they went to accommodate us.”
Because of recent and continuing changes on home loans, precipitated by the national home-mortgage crisis, Gibson and Goslow had difficulty finding a bank to give them a primary loan.
“One day we'd be set to go, and the next day they'd say, ‘Oh, you know what, (we) changed everything,'” Gibson recalls.
That's when Ragsdale, Lopez and former RHA programs manager Julie Levy would step up to the plate.
“Jason or Julie would talk me off the ledge,” Gibson says. “Sure enough, they'd call me back within a day or two with really good news.”
The process from walking into the doors at RHA to walking into the doors of their new home Jan. 31 took five months.
Again, sounding like a mouthpiece for the RHA, Gibson and Goslow advise others in similar circumstances to give the agency a shot. You have nothing to lose, Goslow coaches.
“I think folks might be completely surprised. They'd be amazed at the possibilities,” says Gibson.
firstname.lastname@example.org. John Peel writes a weekly human-interest column.