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Housing council gives Canton couple cold shoulder

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CANTON — North Country Housing Council has retrained employees and is implementing an online aide because of a Canton couple whose experience looking for their first home left them cold.

“It’s so frustrating,” Kelly J. Haas-Infante said. “We can’t seem to get ahead.”

Ms. Haas-Infante and her husband, Nathaniel L. Infante, did not think they would be eligible for the housing council’s first-time home buyers program until the birth of their daughter, Fable I. Infante, after which they completed required classes and were certified. They provided their income from Ms. Haas-Infante’s part-time job as a waitress at Maxfield’s Restaurant in Potsdam and Mr. Infante’s job as an art technician at SUNY Potsdam. They told the housing council about Mr. Infante’s occasional extra income teaching a class at Clarkson University but that was disregarded as non-guaranteed, Ms. Haas-Infante said.

In July, they were told their income of $40,926 qualified them by $25 for a federal and state subsidized program which would have covered much of their down payment and closing costs.

“We came home and celebrated, all excited,” Ms. Haas-Infante said. “The payment would have been the same as what we’re paying for rent.”

Ms. Haas-Infante said housing council staff encouraged them to look at houses but when they found one in Norwood, they were told there was no funding until January.

The couple did not want to wait and they were referred to State of New York Mortgage Agency, a program that makes a mortgage possible with 3 percent down. Grant funding is sometimes available that reduces the down payment to 1 percent, said Alan S. Hipps, housing council executive director.

Mr. Infante and Ms. Haas-Infante went house-hunting again, finding one they liked in Parishville but they then learned there was no grant funding for that program either and that they were not income-eligible after all for the housing council’s program because of Mr. Infante’s sometime extra income.

“The whole thing’s been strange,” Ms. Haas-Infante said. “If they don’t know how to do their job, they shouldn’t be in that position.”

Housing programs for the uninitiated can be confusing, real estate agents said.

“We do feel sympathy with the Infante couple and any other clients that have struggled with the first-time home buyers program in obtaining their first house,” said Rebecca Saunders, the couple’s real estate agent.

William E. Lacy, an associate broker with Lacy Realty, Gouverneur, said his only problem with the housing council is the speed with which approvals are made.

“They’re slower than a conventional mortgage because there’s more hoops to jump through,” he said. “I think that has to do with their funding.”

Still, the prospect of government help in buying a house can be worth waiting for.

“Where else can you go where you’re granted a 20 percent down payment?” said Debbie J. Gilson, County Seat Realty, Canton. “ I think it’s a great program.”

Armed with a document certifying them as income-eligible, Ms. Haas-Infante and Mr. Infante tried to appeal but such an avenue does not exist, Mr. Hipps said.

“It’s not discretionary,” he said. “We look at the income and apply it to figures that are given to us annually.”

Mr. Hipps said the couple’s income was not calculated correctly initially, but the mistake was caught.

“I don’t always get involved but this time, there was a specific question that came up,” he said. “I don’t feel good about this, but we have a fiduciary responsibility, It would have been far worse if we helped them purchase a home and then found out they weren’t qualified. We will be instituting some changes so nobody’s misled.”

Mr. Hipps said he sat down with staff to go over the regulations in detail and what counts as income. The housing council will also start using an online income calculator that will tell staff and prospective home buyers immediately of their eligibility.

Meanwhile, Ms. Haas-Infante said her family will continue struggling to afford a home.

“We’re paycheck to paycheck,” she said.

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