Prospective KCMO homeowners to receive a $5.7 million lift

By Paul Thompson
Northeast News

Standing in front of a dilapidated home on the east side of Kansas City, representatives from Wells Fargo and the Westside Housing Organization joined Kansas City Mayor Sly James and Missouri Representative Emanuel Cleaver II on the afternoon of Monday, July 9 to announce a $5.7 million investment in area homeowners.

The NeighborhoodLIFT down payment assistance grant will offer up to $15,000 to help buy a home in Jackson, Cass or Clay counties. In order to qualify, prospective homeowners cannot earn more than $64,000 annually for a household of up to four residents, which is equivalent to 80% of the area media income (AMI). Active military and military veterans, however, can earn up to 100% of the AMI for a household of up to four, or roughly $80,000 annually. Income limits rise incrementally for households larger than five. The military program also applies to surviving spouses of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Air Force, Army National Guard and Reservists.

Military veterans, surviving spouses, public safety employees (law enforcement, firefighters, EMT) and teachers are also eligible for an additional $2,000, for a potential grant amount of $17,500. Those funds only need to be returned if the buyers do not stay in their home for at least five years.

A free NeighborhoodLIFT home buyer event has been scheduled over two days later this month: on Friday, July 27 from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m., and on Saturday, July 28 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Kansas City Convention Center (201 W. 13th St., KCMO). Attendees are asked to visit for additional details, or to register.

Some qualifications do apply for prospective recipients. Outside of the income limits, grantees must complete eight hours of homeowner education and be on track to purchase a home within 60 days of securing down payment assistance funds. At the July 27-28 event, attendees will be asked to provide proof of income through pay stubs, two years of W-2 forms and two months of bank statements if they intend to qualify for the program. Once qualified, applicant can reserve grants for 60 days while they search for a home.

Cleaver – a former mayor of Kansas City, Missouri – was on hand for the event, relaying how he spent his first six and a half years living with his family in a shack without a toilet, heat, or electricity. Cleaver said that the family then moved into public housing, and his father had to work three jobs in order to own a home of his own.

“I understand the value of home ownership, and I know what it does the psyche of the people who own a piece of earth that they call theirs,” Cleaver said. “I’m therefore quite thrilled with the fact that Wells Fargo has stepped up to the plate to become involved in this NeighborhoodLIFT program.”

KCMO Mayor Sly James added that the program could be a boon for kids, who are the benefactors of housing stability.

“One thing that we do know is that when kids have a stable home environment in a neighborhood of quality, they are going to do better on every level; they’re going to do better in school, they’re going to do better health-wise, they’re going to do better in terms of interactions with the law,” James said.

Gloria Ortiz-Fisher, Executive Director of Westside Housing, said that she was proud to be a part of the housing collaboration, saying that her organization has been helping people purchase homes they can afford for 45 years.

“The tradition of home ownership is what makes our neighborhoods so vibrant, and makes this area such a great place to live,” Ortiz-Fisher said. “We know that an educated, informed homeowner is a successful homeowner, and we know that home ownership is important to stabilizing our neighborhoods.”

The 2018 NeighborhoodLIFT program follows the 2014 incarnation of the program, which helped 308 area residents become homeowners. Kirk Kellner, President of Wells Fargo’s Missouri region, told attendees at the July 9 meeting that applicants don’t even need to receive a mortgage through Wells Fargo in order to be eligible for the $15,000 down payment grant.

“In 2018, the Kansas City NeighborhoodLIFT program will help more than 300 families by making home ownership more affordable, achievable and sustainable through down payment assistance grants up to $15,000 with qualified lenders.” Kellner said. “Now, that does not have to be Wells Fargo; that’s through any qualified lender.”

Asked whether the down payment assistance grant is an attempt by Wells Fargo to rehabilitate an image that was damaged by a wide-ranging account fraud scandal initially uncovered in 2016, Kellner suggested that the NeighborhoodLIFT program has been in effect since well before the scandal broke.

“You can look back at our history over the past six years, at how many neighborhood lifts we’ve done across the county,” Kellner said. “That was before the headlines of the last two years. We’ve been interested in helping neighborhoods and helping people become homeowners for a long, long time.”

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