Bell Gardens launches first-time homeowner program

By Ashley Orona

Contributing Writer

BELL GARDENS — The city has launched its first-time homebuyer and rehabilitation program, hosting an introductory webinar on Dec. 1 with the hopes of increasing homeownership and providing access to funds for current homeowners to renovate their homes.

The program will provide loans for down payments, home rehabilitation and construction costs to create accessory dwelling units and is funded by a $3.4 million award from the California Department of Housing and Community Development. Designed to serve low- and moderate-income families, the program is expected to help 20 people become homeowners and 30 rehabilitate their homes.

The city of Bell Gardens consists mainly of renters in multi-generational households, with the median household income at $42,000 and only 21% of units homeowner-occupied, according to census data. Home prices range from $388,000, according to 2019 Census figures, while Zillow lists the typical Bell Gardens home price at over $500,000, leaving homeownership out of reach of many residents.

The first-time homebuyer program is open to anyone who wants to buy a home in Bell Gardens, but priority will be given to current residents.

“The City Council really tries to push for opportunities for our residents so that they could purchase in Bell Gardens,” said City Councilwoman Alejandra Cortez, who advocated for the program during her term as mayor. “We understand that homebuyers add a lot of value to our city, especially when they’re homegrown.”

Both the first-time homebuyer program and the rehabilitation program offer loans at 3% interest for 30 years. Applicants must live in the property they purchase as their primary place of residence; contribute a minimum 3% towards the purchase price; and cannot have previously owned a home, among other requirements. Their earnings must not exceed 80% of L.A. County area median income. Loans are due if the applicant moves out of the house or sells it.

Along with offering low-income households the opportunity to own a home, the program makes it easier for people who have low credit ratings to qualify for a loan, compared to private lenders who may have stricter requirements. The program also provides technical assistance, including city-recommended contractors that are licensed and bonded, according to Omar Hernandez, chief executive officer of Global Urban Strategies.

The rehabilitation program provides $10,000 to $100,000 available for repairs, full reconstruction or the addition of an accessory dwelling unit. Only owners who occupy their homes and who make an income at or below the L.A. County area median income can apply.

City officials hope that more residents can become homeowners or keep up with necessary repairs and renovations in their homes.

“What we hope is to be able to provide people with the opportunity to be able to purchase their own home,” Cortez said. “I think we all have and aspire to that dream.”

More information about the program’s buyers’ criteria and property guidelines can be found at the Bell Gardens CalHome website.

Ashley Orona is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers the East Los Angeles area. She can be reached at Oronash@gmail.com.

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