Virginia Agency Under Fire Over Home Loan Rules

 

In a move that has angered conservatives, the Virginia Housing Development Authority wants to give unrelated adults and nonmarried couples including homosexuals the opportunity to grasp the American dream: the dream of owning a home.

The housing authority has proposed lifting the current "family rule" from its single-family loan program. The present policy, which has been described as the most restrictive in the nation, limits loan eligibility to persons related by blood, marriage or adoption. The new proposal would make no distinction for loans between multiple borrowers.

"The family rule as it's currently written hampers the ability of certain persons in financial hardships to receive any financial assistance from the VHDA," said Jack Torza, past president of the Virginia Association for Realtors. "The money that these people need is essential to them realizing the American dream."

Not all Virginians are in favor of the VHDA's proposal.

The Family Foundation opposed the change at a VHDA hearing Jan. 3. The foundation promised to fight the amendment on the carpeted floors of the General Assembly if necessary.

Victoria Cobb, director of the foundation, said the proposal would go against the current mission of the VHDA to provide low-interest rate home loans and other home loan financing alternatives to Virginians seeking safe, decent, affordable housing.

"If this government authority redefines the family, indicating its perspective that a marriage may be viewed in the same light as cohabitation, the repercussions will be great and will ripple into many other areas beyond the real estate and mortgage lending industries," she said.

The VHDA has used the word "family" in its policies since 1980. In 1994, however, it temporarily adopted the word "household" to better accommodate nonmarried families ineligible for loans. After the change, unrelated couples, homosexuals, roommates and the like were eligible to apply for loans.

At the time, a VHDA spokesman said the agency supported the change because it helped the authority "fulfill our mission to provide safe, decent housing to Virginians seeking affordable housing otherwise unobtainable to them."

A large public debate stirred shortly after, focusing on whether gay and lesbian couples could qualify under the new regulations. Despite the VHDA's claims that the 1994 amendment had nothing to due with sexual orientation, many political and religious conservatives pushed for its reversal. Then Gov. George Allen also objected and forced the VHDA to reinstate the "family rule."

Five years after the VHDA's last policy change, the loan rule is in question yet again.

After conducting public forums statewide, the authority recently determined that the restriction was a barrier for a wide range of households seeking home loans. They included unrelated roommates, single parents, disabled people, elderly Virginians and homosexuals couples who want to pool their incomes to buy homes.

"The Housing Needs Assessment shows there are 750,000 Virginians between the ages of 60 - 85, many of whom do not own their own homes because they are on fixed incomes," said Susan Dewey, executive director of VHDA.

Similarly, people with disabilities and single heads of households are forced to rent under the current regulations, Dewey said. With the proposed amendment, people could pool their resources and obtain a low-interest loan, even though they aren't related by blood or birth, she said.

VHDA officials say the proposed change is not a political statement but a recognition that the housing needs of low-and moderate-income families are much different than they were a decade ago.

In a recent letter to the editor in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Stephen T. Anderson of Richmond echoed the VHDA's position that times have changed and government policies should shift accordingly.

"Yes, Virginia, gay neighbors can be evicted or fired without cause simply because they are gay," Anderson said. "Does this seem fair? Why is it okay for our government to continue our society's legalized discrimination against gays and lesbians?"

Not long after the VHDA's amendment proposal surfaced in December, Delegate Ryan T. McDougle, R-Mechanicsville, introduced House Bill 1306, requiring the housing authority to preserve its existing policy. On Tuesday (2/12), the House voted 61-38 to approve McDougle's bill.

McDougle said the original intent of the VHDA single-family mortgage loan was to assist young families in buying their first home.

"Benefits like these are designed to encourage home ownership for families and individuals," he said. "Addressing the needs of the disabled and elderly doesn't require a complete redefinition of the regulations."

McDougle added that he would consider exemptions for the elderly, mentally handicapped and physically disabled if the matter reached the General Assembly.

Delegate Frank D. Hargrove, R-Glen Allen, is also against the housing authority's current amendment.

Hargrove has been vocal about other issues involving homosexuality. He recently proposed a bill that would prohibit schools from discussing information regarding "crimes against nature." Gay rights groups say that would bar schools from discussing homosexuality - even in AIDS prevention lessons.

"I don't think it's productive to have such discussions in rooms full of young people, and it doesn't lead to productive citzenship," he said. "I would oppose the VHDA amendment for the same reasons."

If an amendment did reach the assembly and traveled through the House of Delegates and the Senate, Gov. Mark R. Warner's stamp of approval would be necessary before enactment.

"The governor is in support of expanding the lending guidelines of the VHDA," said Ellen Qualls, Gov. Warner's press secretary. "The change would still be in keeping with the mission and values of the housing authority and would make home ownership possible for more Virginians."

At this time, Qualls said, Virginia is the only state in the United States that has such a restrictive home loan program.

Holly Clark is a journalism student at Virgina Commonwealth University

 
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