"City Aids First-Time Homebuyers"

by Susan Schrock, Star-Telegram Staff Writer

ARLINGTON - Maria Guzman and her family will celebrate the holidays in a home of their own this year.

Guzman, a single mother of three, has spent nearly the past decade renting and never imagined she would save enough to buy her own place. But with nearly $14,000 in down payment and closing costs aid from the city, the 41-year-old emergency room patient care technician is moving her children and 1-year-old grandchild in her newly refurbished brick home in southeast Arlington.

"After all those years renting, you are finally giving money for something that is yours," Guzman said at a celebration the city hosted at her Indian Hill Drive house on Monday. "I've always wanted a home to own, to be mine."

Arlington has helped the Guzmans and 26 other families become first-time home buyers as part of its federally funded Neighborhood Stabilization Program. In 2008, about $3.9 billion in federal funding was awarded to states and local governments as part of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act.

Arlington, which has had about 100 properties a month foreclosed on during the economic downturn, received $2 million from the Housing and Urban Development Department for its program.

After thanking the city for its help, Guzman happily received a housewarming gift and the keys to her new three-bedroom home from a co-worker, Mayor Robert Cluck, who also works at Arlington Memorial Hospital.

Removing blight

Cluck credits the city's partnerships with local and federal agencies, including HUD and the Tarrant County Housing Partnership, for its success in helping so many families realize their dreams of becoming first-time homeowners. But the effects go beyond those families.

The Neighborhood Stabilization Program also helps removes the potential of neighborhood crime and blight stemming from vacant, foreclosed houses.

"When we fill a house up, we have less crime, less mischief," Cluck said.

With its grant money, the Arlington Housing Authority bought what would become Guzman's home near Cravens Park this year at a reduced price and spent nearly $23,000 rehabilitating the interior and exterior. The work, which included new flooring, paint, and energy-efficient appliances and windows, increased the home's appraised value to $122,500, city officials said.

"It is a very nice home," Guzman said, standing in her remodeled kitchen. "I don't plan on moving."

'Awesome day'

Besides help with down payments and closing costs, Arlington has bought and repaired 10 foreclosed homes, mostly in southeast Arlington, to sell to qualified low- and middle-income families, said David Zappasodi, executive director of the Arlington Housing Authority.

The city has also demolished two vacant, substandard homes in east Arlington. New homes for qualified home buyers will be built on those sites as part of the program, he said.

"Today is an awesome day for Arlington," Councilman Robert Rivera said at the Guzman family's celebration.

"To be a homeowner is definitely the American dream. The opportunity to go from someone who rents to someone who owns is glorious. The city of Arlington is working daily to make this experience happen for anyone for wants to be a homeowner."