GONZALES — The chairwoman of the Ascension Parish Council’s money committee said Monday that the parish wants a voting say in a Baton Rouge-based housing finance agency if the group is going to expand into the parish.
Councilwoman Teri Casso told Mike Airhart, executive director of the Capital Area Finance Authority, that the parish wants an appointee to the board overseeing the authority that helps low- and moderate-income homebuyers pay for home loans.
East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden appoints all members of the authority currently, and all seats are filled. But Airhart told Casso at an Ascension Parish Council Finance Committee meeting in Gonzales that authority officials have been discussing a nonvoting advisory committee to which participating parishes could appoint members.
“I would certainly suggest that you talk to Mr. Mayor about that being a voting seat,” responded Casso, who chairs the Finance Committee.
Airhart was pitching an agreement between the council and the authority so it could offer its loan assistance in Ascension.
“Numerous home mortgage lenders and Realtors have requested our organization over the years,” Airhart said.
A housing needs assessment that LSU conducted for the Louisiana Housing Corporation this year found that Ascension has the highest median home price in the 11-parish Baton Rouge labor market at $166,800. But that same study also found that Ascension had the lowest percentage of residents, at 12 percent, who spend 35 percent or more of their income on housing.
The authority, formerly known as the East Baton Rouge Mortgage Finance Authority, has been in existence since 1974 and is self-financed, the authority’s website says. The authority has provided more than $1 billion in below-market rate funds to more than 15,500 low- and moderate-income households.
But the authority recently underwent a name change and an alteration in its forming documents to allow it to offer loans in the eight parishes surrounding East Baton Rouge. Airhart said Ascension is the first of several parishes that he plans to speak with.
The authority offers 30-year, fixed-rate home loans through 19 lenders and down payment assistance grants of up to 5 percent of the original mortgage amount to qualifying homebuyers.
In Ascension Parish, homebuyers could have an income of no more than $76,360 per year to qualify for the loans, according to authority promotional materials.
Parish President Tommy Martinez, who also pushed for a voting member on the board, noted that Ascension has a mortgage finance authority but it has not been active since the early 2000s.
He pointed out that one advantage of working with the capital area authority, as opposed to restarting Ascension’s authority, would be that the East Baton Rouge group would handle the administrative costs related to the loan program.
Casso asked Airhart if authority bylaws allowed the number of seats on the board to be increased. Airhart said they did.
Though not raised in the meeting Monday, Holden’s appointments to the authority’s Board of Trustees must get East Baton Rouge Parish Metropolitan Council approval, the authority’s website says. East Baton Rouge’s parish attorney and the director of finance also serve as ex-officio board members.
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