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Buy Springfield program to boost 'City of Homes'

Date: 5/26/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- Simply put by a group of elected officials, lenders and real estate professionals, this is the best time to buy a house in the City of Homes.

A new program, Buy Springfield Now, was announced at a press event at the Basketball Hall of Fame on May 19 and described as the most comprehensive program to attract homebuyers to the city.

With historically low interest rates and a diverse and affordable housing market, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said, "The time is right to buy Springfield now."

He added, "The effort is the most aggressive in the city's history."

Don Thompson of Keller Williams Realty described the home buying scene locally as "a perfect storm." He said that "storm" includes low mortgage rates with low prices coupled with an $8,000 federal tax credit for first-time homebuyers.

"If people don't buy a house now, when are they going to do it?" he asked.

Rocco Leone of MassHousing explained to Reminder Publications this program is not just for low-income buyers or first time buyers. It is designed to attract homebuyers from all economic demographics as well as help retain people in the city who presently own a home and are looking for an upgrade.

Based on a program that has worked well in Worcester, the campaign is a collaboration between lenders such as MassHousing, Hampden Bank, Citizens Bank, Country Bank, Florence Savings Bank, Greater Springfield Credit Union and Monson Savings Bank with the non-profit HAP Housing Inc. and Springfield Neighborhood Housing Services and area realtors.

Hampden Bank, for example, is offering a number of financial incentives that include up to 97 percent loans to value financing (no down payment required in some cases); up to .50 percent toward closing costs on all MassHousing loans with a maximum of $1,000; and a credit of $300 at closing on all Hampden Bank portfolio loans.

Area employers such as Baystate Health Systems (BHS) and MassMutual are also part of the program, with expanded internal efforts to encourage employees to buy homes in Springfield. Steve Bradley, BHS vice president of government affairs, said the organization had started a home ownership program 10 years ago.

Over that time, 69 employees have purchased homes with forgivable loans from BHS and Bradley noted that 58 of those homes were in Springfield and 57 of the employees are still occupying them.

"It's very important to us to help raise the level of homeownership," Bradley said.

Ronald Johnson, director of community relations for MassMutual, said that company is focusing its similar employee home buying program just on Springfield.

The campaign is being marketed by a new Web site,, and by educating the area's 2,000 realtors about it. Thompson said the efforts to make sure links to the new Web site are local realty sites. Outreach programs to educate realtors about the program are underway.

Members of the city's retail community are offering discounts to participating homebuyers and James Morton, president of the Springfield YMCA, pledged during the meeting to give a gift certificate for one free month's use of the YMCA not only to a homebuyer, but also to the neighbor to the left and right of that homebuyer.