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Home ownership navigation to be simplified at June expo

Ashley Morales

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The 33rd annual HOPE (Home Ownership for People Everywhere) Expo will be held June 8, 2024. Photo provided.

Amidst the turbulent tides of St. Petersburg’s housing market, the HOPE (Home Ownership for People Everywhere) Expo is hoping to cast a wider net with this year’s event.

Since it started in 1991, the HOPE Expo has had a mission of empowering aspiring homebuyers to navigate the challenging landscape with confidence. Scheduled for June 8 at Raymond James Bank in Carillon Park, the free expo brings industry experts, educational resources and networking opportunities together under one roof.

“During the [homebuying] process, you need realtors, you need lenders, you need home inspectors and a title company. A lot of first-time homebuyers, they have no idea what they’re getting into,” said Karmen Lemberg, Director of Homeownership Programs and Operations for the Housing Finance Authority of Pinellas County, and HOPE Expo committee co-chair. “We’ve looped in other nonprofits, lenders, title companies and other people who were of a like mind, wanting to help citizens get into their first home, understand the process and understand the programs that are out there.”

One of the highlights of the HOPE Expo is the free Homebuyer Workshop. The all-day workshop gives a comprehensive overview of the home-buying process, from understanding credit scores to securing financing and navigating the legal aspects of purchasing a home. Lemberg said it’s also a way to help potential buyers understand county and city-specific programs, which can often be combined to help buyers in the competitive Tampa Bay housing market.

“Especially in this market, it is hard. Everybody says, ‘Well, it’s just no help, I make too much money. The houses are too expensive,’ but we are showing them there is help, there are programs. The income limits have gone up and you can layer some of these programs,” Lemberg said.

The St. Petersburg City Council recently approved increasing down payment assistance from $60,000 to $75,000 in the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area (CRA), part of its “Housing Opportunities for All” initiative. According to a recent update, nearly 170 residents have received funding and another 956 have completed required homeowner education classes.

A table showing the 2024 income limits for the Housing Finance Authority of Pinellas County’s First-Time Homebuyer Program. Screengrab from pinellas.gov.

As leaders in our area work to create more homeownership opportunities, the HOPE Expo committee is aiming to reach new segments of the local population by offering the headlining Homebuyer Workshop in English or Spanish. The goal is to connect with Spanish speakers in their native language, helping them feel comfortable and better understand what can be a complicated process.

“Just think how you would feel if you were trying to buy a home and nobody you dealt with spoke English,” Lemberg said. “It’s hard enough buying a home when you do understand the people speaking the language; when you don’t understand the language, it’s virtually impossible.

“We’ve been working hard to build trust in the community and help people understand that there are programs here to help them own homes. We want to put a path in front of them to follow that can help them leave a legacy.” 

Lemberg said about 100 people have registered for the English version and about 30 have registered for the Spanish workshop, but she’s hoping those numbers continue to go up.

“It makes for stronger communities when you have ownership versus renting. It gives people a stable foundation to build on,” Lemberg said. “Especially when you’re talking about children; making sure they’re stable at home helps them be more stable at school. You can see this go throughout all aspects of their lives. The more stable you make the base, they better they can do as they go out into life and move forward.”

In addition to providing education and guidance, those who complete the Home Ownership Workshop will receive a certificate after the event, which helps satisfy the education requirements for a variety of affordable housing loans and down payment assistance programs in the area. Lemberg said this helps families kick-start the home-buying process.

“The certificate is good for two years, so if they’re not ready right now or in the next six months to purchase a home, they have that two years to get ready and to purchase.”

The HOPE Expo is free and open to the public. Those who plan to attend must register online in advance on the HOPE Expo website, hopeexpo.org.

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