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ImageTompkins County has been awarded a $600,000 grant from the Governor's Office for Small Cities to continue and expand its Homeownership Program.

In this week's announcement of the grant award, the Tompkins Homeownership Program was highlighted by the Governor's Office as an example of a worthy project that creates great public benefit.

Since 1994, the Homeownership Program has helped more than 250 low- and moderate-income households purchase their first homes. through a public-private partnership with the non-profit organization Better Housing for Tompkins County. The award will enable the partnership to provide home buying assistance to 19 additional households, as well as pre- and post-purchase counseling for program participants.

"Our program has been recognized as one of the most successful homeownership programs," says Planning and Public Works Commissioner Ed Marx. "The partnership with Better Housing for Tompkins County has been a major element in that success. Continuation of this program holds particular importance at this time, as we work to address the need for affordable housing in this county."

The County's Housing Strategy, which has been adopted to date by Tompkins County, the City and Town of Ithaca, and Tompkins County Area Development, identifies a "severe and growing housing shortage in Tompkins County," as documented in the Tompkins County Affordable Housing Needs Assessment completed a year ago. In its successful grant application, the County noted that Tompkins County has the highest housing costs of any upstate county and of any rural county in the state, as well as the most expensive owner and rental housing in its eight-county regional market, with the median value of a single-family home in the county increasing from a little over $100,000, as reported in the 2000 Census, to $185,000 by late last year.

Better Housing for Tompkins County provides housing counseling and other administrative services for the Homeownership Program. Financial assistance may be used to fund the purchase of existing one- or two-family homes in Tompkins County, outside the City of Ithaca, with a $150,000 maximum home purchase price. Total housing expenses cannot exceed 33 percent of household income.

Better Housing will be offering workshops that explain the program and how to become part of it. The next workshop will take place on Tuesday, October 2, beginning at 7:00 p.m., at the Scott Heyman Conference Room, located on the first floor of the County's Old Jail office building, 125 East Court Street, Ithaca.

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