Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority officials came to Superior on Friday, Nov. 16, to announce a new, statewide mortgage program to address the state's aging housing stock.

The new Homestyle Renovation Program allows homebuyers to finance not only the purchase of a home, but money needed to renovate it.

Bryan Antony, who represents 22 counties for WHEDA in northern and west-central Wisconsin, said it's another innovative loan program designed to improve neighborhoods through home ownership.

"I have to tell you, as you read the papers, and I'm sure you do and see in the media, you no doubt heard of some stumbling blocks regarding housing," said Brian Schimming, WHEDA's chief operating officer. "Sometimes you hear, 'People don't want to buy homes. Those millennials, they don't want to settle down. They're afraid of a 30-year mortgage,' and on and on and on. And so, I have some news about that for you about them with respect to WHEDA and the way that we look at that issue."

Schimming said 73 percent of WHEDA loans were given to millennials in fiscal year 2018.

"There are more and more people working in Wisconsin today than ever before," Schimming said. "As a result, more and more people now have the opportunity to realize the American dream."

With Wisconsin aging housing stock, the program was created because in many cases, people prefer the "fixer-upper," Schimming said.

"With this new financing option, including up to six months of mortgage payments if the homeowner is unable to live in the home during renovation, can be financed with a single WHEDA 30-year fixed mortgage," Schimming said.

Renovations must be complete six months after closing on the purchase.

Prospective home buyers can be eligible for up to 100 percent financing with down payment assistance through WHEDA, Schimming said.

To be eligible for the loan, the home must be an owner-occupied primary residence, which can include a duplex, and applicants must meet WHEDA income and credit guidelines.

"This is one product; you're not taking out several loans," Schimming said.

In addition, he said borrowers can receive up to $1,250 credit on closing costs through the WHEDA Advantage Program for purchasing a distressed property, on a first-come, first-served basis.

"This is exciting for us because we are in a state with a lot of older housing stock," Schimming said. "I grew up in a house that was kind of mid- to late-'20s. It wasn't 100 years, but it had some years on it."

For Mayor Jim Paine, housing has been a priority since taking office in 2017. Since taking office, he's hired a housing coordinator and planner, Jeff Skrenes, and created a housing task force to work toward redeveloping some of the oldest housing stock in the state.

"I want to point out the economics of this, which are so often overlooked," Paine said. "One of the reasons we focus so much on housing in municipalities is the economic potential that it has for growing our communities. When you're adding value that helps everybody. It helps build wealth in our communities. It helps lower taxes. It helps attract people to our community. It helps keep people here."

Paine said that value is often equated with building new housing, but restoring older homes also adds value, sometimes on a greater scale.

Paine said the real value of programs like the Homestyle Renovation Program is that they help keep the character and stories of neighborhoods alive so a new generation can create new stories.

"This is a major step forward, not just for the city of Superior as an institution, not just for our economy, but for the actual people that are living here."

During his tenure as mayor, Paine has worked to turn around the culture of razing distressed properties to one where they are restored.

"There's two ways this helps - culture and actual tools," Paine said. "So we have to get away from the idea that old houses are blight. Just because they don't look great right now, or don't have a lot of functionality right now, that they must automatically go away. We must return ourselves to a fix-it culture, and not a throwaway culture. In order to do that, you have to have actual tools."

He said in the past, homes were razed because those were the tools available and it was the easiest way to deal with distressed property. However, that's left the city holding the bag for the cost of razing homes despite assessments, and vacant lots that may never be rebuilt.

"Now, because of programs like this ... as well as our own neighborhood improvement program and the house recycling program that we're working on, we're going to have the tools. When a house is distressed, we have money and developers, and we've got homeowners ready to go in and make that work happen."

For more information, visit wheda.com or call 800-334-6873.