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Affordable Housing Toolkit
The first question you may ask when you see this headline is, "what do you mean by affordable?" You could say that affordable means that you can afford it - it doesn't matter what your income is. In practice, however, affordable usually means it's affordable to a household making 80 percent or less of median income. In Louisa County the median household income is currently $61,600 for a household of four. So if your household of four has a collective income no greater than $49,280, you are a good candidate for affordable housing.

Affordable also usually means not spending more than 30 percent of your income on housing. Just because you have an income below a certain amount does not mean your housing is affordable! The 30 percent figure is intended to try to account for all the other typical household costs - gas, day care, food, etc.

The Louisa County Affordable Housing Committee and Community Development Staff have teamed up to provide these links to useful affordable housing resources in the Louisa area and across Virginia. If you have questions or suggestions after reviewing these Web resources, please contact Staff at (540) 967-3430.
Reduce your cost of living! Make your house more energy efficient.

The link to Local Energy Alliance Program (www.leap-va.org/residents.htm), based in Charlottesville, serves Louisa residents looking to upgrade their homes to make them more energy efficient. The program can arrange for a contractor to conduct a thorough energy audit in a home, to determine where improvements are needed to save on electric and heating costs. Once these improvements are identified, the program will work with residents to find economical ways to make the needed changes.

"Home Energy Saver" is a Web site created by the U.S. Department of Energy where you can estimate how much you could save by retrofitting your house to make it more energy-efficient. You can identify savings for each type of product (washing machines, light bulbs, etc.) as well as specific improvements (such as insulating your attic).

EarthCraft is a national initiative to promote airsealing and energy efficiency in new homes. There is a state branch of EarthCraft in Virginia, which is promoting energy efficient development in cooperation with the Virginia Home Builders Association. You can learn more about EarthCraft building principles and upcoming training opportunities at www.ecvirginia.org.

The Community Energy Conservation Program provides weatherization services for Louisa residents and others in Central Virginia. Weatherization may include sealing around doors, windows and pipes; installing insulation or storm windows; and upgrading heating systems. CECP can be reached at (434) 293-3777 or 1-877-816-0218, or visit them on the Web at www.cecpva.org.

Learn about alternatives to the single-family home built on-site.

Accessory apartments on a single-family house lot
The costs of buying a single-family home, whether or not it is new, are prohibitive for many Louisa residents even in these economic times when prices are relatively low. And while renting is an option most places in the County, there are not always affordable rentals, either. An accessory apartment is an opportunity for people to rent small housing units located on the same lot as a single-family home. These apartments can be attached to the main structure or physically separated. Some people find this to be a good way to provide affordability and independence to an older family member or friend, or someone with a physical disability with limited mobility. But anyone can live in an accessory apartment, regardless of their life situation. The link below provides the definition in the Louisa County Code of accessory apartments. For more information call Staff at (540) 967-3430, or click on Zoning Uses.

Two-family dwellings
In certain areas of Louisa County, you can live in a housing unit that is physically attached to a neighbor's unit and on the same lot. This arrangement may be less costly for a tenant than renting a single-family home, and can provide rental income to a property owner who lives on-site. Unlike an accessory apartment attached to a single-family house, in a two-family structure one housing unit does not have to be smaller than the other. Also, the property owner does not have to live in one of the units. This type of housing is allowed in the Agricultural (A-2) and Residential (R-1 and R-2) zoning districts with a conditional use permit. The link below provides the definition in the Louisa County Code of two-family dwellings. For more information call Staff at (540) 967-3430 or click on Zoning Uses.

Single-family attached dwellings
Another housing option in Louisa that may be relatively more affordable is the single-family attached dwelling. This is similar to a two-family dwelling in that there are two housing units in the same structure. However, unlike a two-family dwelling, here the two homes are actually on separate lots. The property owners may be able to save money on energy costs because they share a common wall. Like a two-family dwelling, there is no requirement for either property owner to live on-site. This housing type is allowed in the Agricultural (A-2) and Residential (R-1 and R-2) zoning districts with a conditional use permit. See the link below for the definition in the Louisa County Code of single-family attached dwellings. For more information call Staff at (540) 967-3430 or click on Zoning Uses.

Manufactured or modular homes can be both affordable and of high quality.
While it is important, as with any business, to identify a builder who will provide a quality product, there is evidence that manufactured or modular homes can be of very high quality at an affordable price. When they hear the term "manufactured home," many people visualize mobile homes or trailers of the common rectangular shape and single or double-wide configuration. There is much more variety in these types of homes, however. You can learn more about what a manufactured or modular home is by visiting the industry Web site via the link below. A link is also provided to access the County's regulations on manufactured or modular homes (those not located in mobile home parks). or click on Zoning Uses and scroll down to find "manufactured home".

Link to www.manufacturedhousing.org. Click on the "Consumer Center" option on the menu at left, and choose "Frequently Asked Questions".

Find homebuyer education opportunities and financial assistance.

Verify that your credit is sound.
Before you start looking for a home to purchase, make sure you have good credit. The bank that you go to seeking a loan will check your credit record, so you should, too. If you find a problem, you can work to correct it and save yourself trouble down the road. The Web site www.annualcreditreport.com provides links to the three credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You are entitled to one free report from each of these agencies in a calendar year. Use this Web link to avoid paying unnecessary fees for your credit information.

Get an idea of what you can afford.
The best way to determine how much home you can afford is to talk with a housing professional. Your bank may offer a free pre-qualification service, where they determine how much of a mortgage loan you can afford based on your income, debt, credit history and other factors. You can also use an online mortgage calculator to give you a rough idea of what you can afford. One such calculator is available at the following link: www.zillow.com/mortgage/calculator/How-much-can-I-afford.htm

You can access financial help with buying a home through the Fluvanna/Louisa Housing Foundation, which offers homebuyer downpayment assistance. This program is funded with support from the County of Louisa. Eligible households can receive a loan of up to $10,000 of the purchase price of a home. This program recently won an award from the Virginia Association of Counties for helping young families find affordable homes. Read more about the Fluvanna/Louisa Housing Foundation and the homebuyer program on these brochures: Housing Vouchers, Ramps and First-time Buyers and the Homebuyer Assistance Program.

In addition to the homebuyer downpayment program, the Foundation also helps people who need temporary handicap access ramps and emergency repairs, including to provide indoor plumbing if necessary. The Foundation also administers Housing Choice Vouchers in Louisa County (see separate entry on how these vouchers work).

Take a homebuyer education course on-line and become eligible for loans.
The State of Virginia now offers its homebuyer education class on the Web. This course provides a thorough introduction to some of the hard issues a potential homebuyer must confront. For example, a would-be buyer may need to improve his or her credit rating, and may find that owning a home can mean monthly expenses greater than renting. The course will also provide advice about the specific steps one should expect in the process of buying a home, such as hiring an attorney and home inspector. Once a resident completes the course and receives a certificate, she becomes eligible for certain loans available through the Virginia Housing Development Authority. Take the course at https://vhda.learn.com/learncenter.asp?id=178409.

Talk to a local lender.
There are several lenders in the Louisa area that offer mortgages and home improvement loans. As a potential homebuyer your job is to shop for a loan that suits you, paying close attention to interest rates, term length, etc. The following are mortgage lenders with branches in the immediate area that you might consider:

Help with financing a home purchase from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The USDA has various home financing programs for people living in rural areas such as Louisa County. Funding may be available to buy a home as well as to fix one up. The nearest USDA housing office is in Culpeper and their number is (540) 825-4200. You can find information on financing options at the following link: www.rurdev.usda.gov/HSF_SFH.html.

See if you qualify for a Housing Choice Voucher.
The Housing Choice Voucher program, formerly known as Section 8, was created by the federal government to help people with very low incomes to afford to rent a home. The Fluvanna/Louisa Housing Foundation administers the vouchers in Louisa County. With a voucher, a tenant is guaranteed to not spend more than a third of their income on rent and utilities. Preference is given to local residents and people currently spending over 50% of their income on housing costs. To find out more about this program and if you may be a candidate for a voucher, contact the foundation at 540-967-3483.

Get help with drilling a well or improving an older one.
Many homeowners find that their water supply from their well is inconsistent, providing little or no volume at times. In many cases the problem is that they have an older, shallow well. Loans at 1% interest to drill new wells or repair old ones are available from the Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project, based in Roanoke. Loans can be up to $11,000 and are typically repaid over 5 to 10 years. Households with income up to $60,900 can qualify. To learn more or to apply, call Southeast R-CAP at 1-866-928-3731.

Find places to live on-line.

Homes for people with physical disabilities.
If you are a person with a physical disability, the Virginia Housing Development Authority provides this Web site with links to Louisa County housing opportunities for you: www.accessva.org.

Habitat for Humanity
The non-profit affordable housing provider, Habitat for Humanity, has a chapter in Louisa County. Habitat is known for reducing costs by enlisting prospective homeowners in building their own houses. www.louisacounty.com/habitat.

Stay in your home as you grow older.

Make your home visitable by everyone
For people with physical disabilities and many older citizens, staying in one's own home can be a challenge. The idea of "visitability" is that every home should provide the simple forms of access necessary to allow these people to remain in their homes, and to visit those of others. According to one common definition, if a home has at least one zero-step entrance, doorways on the ground floor with at least 32 inches of clear passage space, and a bathroom on that floor, it qualifies as visitable. The national advocacy group, American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), has published a report on visitability which you can find at this link: www.aarp.org/home-garden/livable-communities/info-08-2008/2008_14_access.html.

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