Northwest NEWS

April 1, 2002

Front Page

Program bridges gap between teachers' salaries and homeownership

by Jeanette Knutson
   King County Executive Ron Sims addressed the audience of a well-attended Northshore School District (NSD) press conference last week. The conference was staged to announce - and yes, celebrate - a new benefit program for Northshore School District employees, the Hometown Home Loan Program.
   Northshore partnered with public and private groups to create this program, designed to remove the barriers of homeownership for teachers and other school employees.
   Executive Sims told of how his young niece, at the time a low-paid first-time teacher, lived with his family for two years in order to save money.
   "She wanted a car, she wanted furniture, she wanted a house," said Sims. "But there was a difference between her salary and her wants."
   Sims' niece ended up teaching for five years. Each year, he said, she received outstanding evaluations from her supervisor. Moreover, her students and fellow teachers loved her.
   But Sims saw the young woman become increasingly discouraged, no doubt in part due to her inability to envision a future for herself and new husband, a future complete with hearth and home.
   His niece eventually left the teaching profession, said Sims.
   "This nation can't afford that," said Sims. "Owning a home gives teachers value and importance. ... We must thank teachers for what they do every single day. They, too, deserve their place in the sun, their place in the community."
   Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) cited the country's acute need for new teachers within the next 10 years due to the high number of retirees.
   "Teachers are one of our state's most valuable human resources," said Rep. Inslee. "This initiative rewards their hard work and dedication by helping them achieve homeownership in the high-cost Puget Sound area.
   " ... Good teachers deserve good housing. ... But we want our teachers fresh, rather than spending time on I-5 (each morning)," said Inslee.
   "I applaud Northshore School District's leadership for working with the public-private sectors to craft solutions to help meet employee needs. I hope other people will copy the blueprint of this plan," he said.
   Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel called teachers "treasures in our community, people we don't mention (nearly) enough. ... It is exciting to see the housing industry come together to support a higher quality of life for Snohomish and King County educators."
   Drewel congratulated the district on its commitment, trust and leadership in co-orchestrating so important a program.
   Karlene Marberg-Ross, a third-grade teacher at Fernwood Elementary School, has taught for five years in the Northshore School District. She is the first person in the district to buy a home using the Hometown Home Loan Program. In fact, she and her husband, a first-year police officer, will close on their home April 15 and move into their three-bedroom dream home during spring break.
   Marberg-Ross said she loves being a teacher and is inspired by the children she teaches. But teaching, she realized, is not a high-salary position.
   She and her husband have worked hard for the past few years to save for a new home, she said. Saving has not been easy, however, considering rent, student loan payments and everyday expenses.
   The couple has spent spare time these past two years driving around looking at houses in King and Snohomish counties. They often became discouraged by the high costs of houses, costs that seemed to be going up faster than the couple's savings, she said.
   The Hometown Home Loan Program has enabled them to purchase the home of their dreams.
   "HomeStreet Bank had us approved within 24 hours," said Marberg-Ross. "We are thrilled to have been able to take advantage of the many benefits offered through this program. The benefits are helping us achieve our dream of homeownership at a time when it's tough for a teacher to do so in a high-cost market.
   "The low down payment and affordable mortgage payments will allow us to continue doing what we love."
   Northshore School District Superintendent Dr. Karen Forys said, "Every single student deserves to have an excellent teacher."
   It is, of course, the district's job to attract and keep those teachers.
   "There have been a lot of qualified people who want to work here," Forys said, "but more and more I am hearing they are having trouble buying affordable housing (within or near our district)."
   So the district tried to come up with options, she said.
   Said Forys, "We are grateful to all of the partners who helped make this initiative a reality for employees in the Northshore School District, where the cost of homeownership has outpaced salaries. The Hometown Home Loan Program will make it possible for many of our employees to experience the pride of homeownership for the first time. Providing this benefit for our employees will enhance their job satisfaction and give them more opportunities for community and school involvement."
   District partners include King and Snohomish counties, HomeStreet Bank, and mortgage lender Fannie Mae, to offer help with down payment and closing-cost assistance, low-cost mortgages and free home buying counseling to all district employees. Mortgages for school employees will be originated by HomeStreet Bank and bought by Fannie Mae.
   The collaboration includes HomeSight of King and Snohomish counties, the Housing Authority of Snohomish County, and House Key Teacher, a mortgage program between Fannie Mae and the Washington State Housing Finance Commission for first-time homebuyers. The program permits buyers to make down payments as low as 1 percent of the home purchase price, or $500, and considers non-traditional credit histories.