Barber shop chat led to new home

By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor

Register/Bob Johnson
Amy Shields visits with Randy Snider, left, area director for U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, and Tim Rogers, Housing Programs director, when they and other Rural Development officials stopped by the new home of Greg and Amy Shields Thursday morning. The Shieldses took advantage of a Rural Development loan to buy their home.

Greg and Amy Shields were having a dickens of a time trying to move up to a better home in Iola. They had talked with lenders but found interest rates and other things to do with home loans too demanding for their budget.
That changed when Greg, who cuts hair six days a week at his barber shop on West Street, mentioned the family’s dilemma to a customer.
“I was getting my hair cut one day and Greg was telling me about their difficulties,” Randy Woodruff, a Rural Development specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said. “I said, ‘Wait a minute! I can beat those interest rates!’”
The next thing Greg and Amy knew, they had qualified for a loan through USDA’s Rural Housing Program and soon were in a new home at 324 S. Second.
Thursday morning the Shieldses were recognized for their participation in the federal housing program.
Also recognized in Allen County were the Register, for its media coverage of USDA programs, and Don Diebolt and Diebolt Lumber and Supply, for efforts to make materials for new homes affordable and readily available.
Darla Buckman, acting state director of USDA Rural Development, noted that the Guaranteed Rural Housing Loan Program fund usage already had reached an all-time high in Kansas for fiscal year 2009, which ends Sept. 30. So far, with slightly more than three months to go, loans have totaled $132 million. Last year the total was $118.5 million; the year before $87.5 million.
“I think we’ll hit $175 million,” said Tim Rogers, Housing Program director.
Participation has increased as the program, as well as others available for repairs, rental assistance and business and community development, has become better known, Rogers said.
“A lot of people still think of agriculture when USDA is mentioned,” Annie Prather, a local specialist said. “Obviously, we go far beyond agriculture.”
The USDA office at 202 W. Miller Rd. is one of five regional offices in Kansas. It serves 16 counties, including Allen. The Rural Development specialists and Buckman — she’s the former Darla Mann of Moran and started with the agency in Iola 271⁄2 years ago — were scheduled to be in several others counties Thursday and today, making similar appearances to recognize those touched by Rural Development’s housing loans.

USDA RURAL Development Direct Housing Loans have requirements.
They’re available to people living in cities of 20,000 or less and in rural areas. Purchase price limits have been established for each county, with Allen’s being $144,800, and there are family income limits, which vary by family size and county.
Once a family is found to be eligible, advantages are no down payment, no mortgage insurance, 1 percent interest rate, 33-year mortgage, no origination fees and some flexibility in qualifying standards. The program is not restricted to first-time buyers and the home to be financed may be new or existing. USDA loans also may be used in combination with other financing and USDA financing may be made for up to 102 percent of appraised value of the home.
“We’ve had a lot of success stories with the housing loan and other programs,” Rogers said. “USDA helps thousands of Kansans each year improve their quality of life along with helping communities expand their local economic development opportunities.”
He noted that rental assistance in some cases had kept recipients from becoming homeless and that many who thought they wouldn’t qualify for USDA money to make repairs were flabbergasted when they learned they did.
“That’s particularly true of people living on fixed incomes and Social Security, many of whom are just getting by,” Rogers said.
He pointed to Judy Riley, a Chanute retiree whose home’s roof was badly in need in repair.
“We were able to get her a $7,500 grant, the maximum, for a new roof,” Rogers said. “She was so appreciative.”
Some repair awards are a combination of grants and loans, he said, and always make a huge difference in living conditions.
Randy Snider, area Rural Development specialist, said USDA began making home loans in 1960 with long-term mortgages, and “we’re starting to see some people coming around a second time,” not necessarily seeking a loan to buy anew but for assistance in making repairs to homes they bought years ago.
“We have more than 40 programs” and in many instances people who need assistance can qualify under one or another, he said.

RURAL Development’s biggest hurdle in making loans and grants for the various housing programs it administers is having people make applications.
“Many people just don’t seem to know that we exist and that we can help them,” Rogers said. “In many cases we can and the easy way to find out is to merely call our office and ask.”
The Iola office telephone number is 365-2901.