It is incredible how so much can change and remain the same, at the same time. In mid- March, NDHFA closed its doors to the public and sent 80 percent of our staff home to begin teleworking. Our IT and HR departments went into overdrive, ensuring staff had the equipment and remote access they needed. While our office and parking lot are desolate, and most businesses and interactions are now done over the phone and computer, I am proud to say that we have continued to provide excellent customer service. Less than 3 percent of our borrowers have called about forbearance protocols and fortunately, most were able to make their April mortgage payment. May and upcoming months may be harder, we don’t know yet, but the staff is up to date on federal regulations, moratoriums, and guidelines to provide accurate information to assist these individuals and families, so they understand all of their options. While processing loan applications is taking a bit longer due to extra verification measures, our reservation numbers are on par with last year and our balance sheet remains strong.
While compliance monitoring for multifamily housing units has been restricted to desk reviews, no on-site visits, and extensions were granted for some federal project financing to accommodate delayed construction, other federal and state programs continue to move forward because our housing partners and developers need continuity to continue to serve the state’s most vulnerable populations.
New to many of us is the amount of time we now spend in meetings to conduct normal business on top of state and federal meetings to comprehend the new guidelines, protocols and regulations. A few staff are assisting on multi-agency statewide taskforces to develop and organize resources for citizens that may be housing insecure in addition to responding to citizen and media inquiries. The pandemic has been a catalyst to eliminating silos in state government. It is all hands on deck, outside of the box thinking and leveraging of the skills and time capacity of everyone willing to take on the challenge.
As I stated previously, in some areas we haven’t missed a beat. The agency recommended and received approval to increase the FirstHome™ program cost limits to $294,600 for a single-family home and set the maximum income limits at $86,000 to $119,945. In 2019, the average FirstHome loan purchased by NDHFA was just over $168,000, and the average borrower’s household income was $60,600.
The allocation plans for the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit and the National Housing Trust Fund programs have been published. NDHFA reviews the plans annually to ensure they are addressing the state’s current housing needs. The next competitive application round will be in September 2020.
The agency’s Helping Housing Across North Dakota (HAND) program awarded $200,000 in grants to targeted community programs for the housing rehab needs of lower-income individuals and families. NDHFA has allocated over $6 million in earnings since the program began in 1993 to assist more than 7,500 households.
Finally, on May 1st, I began my first day as the newly appointed executive director of NDHFA by the North Dakota Industrial Commission. I have been with the agency for almost 40 years and it continues to be a blessing every day. Even though our office doors will remain closed to the public and no date has been set as to when we will open, I look forward to the changes and the challenges that are on the horizon within our industry and know that whether the staff is at the office or in their homes, we are always working to ensure that every North Dakotan has a safe place to call home.