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Eva Borneke bought this Highland Park home about five years ago with down-payment assistance from the city of Mankato. She spoke briefly Wednesday at a seminar that helped teach other authorities how to help their clients own their own homes.

Pat Christman
The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Eva Borneke says these five words with conviction, but in a slow and deliberate way, like it still feels sort of unreal: “I own my own home.”

It’s been almost five years now, but home ownership seemed out of reach for a single woman, working part time and receiving disability payments. Besides those hurdles, she had poor credit and an admittedly “meager income” that made it difficult to save money for a down payment.

The obstacles only make her happiness at living in her own home shine all the brighter.

“I have a bedroom. I have gardens. I have a garage, an extended garage, with a loft,” she said.

She’s become an ardent, animated advocate for public housing programs. It was only natural, then, that she was on hand to help promote a similar home-ownership program.

So-called Section 8 vouchers have long been used to help the poor rent private-market units, but since 2004 or so the federal government has encouraged housing authorities to help people buy homes using Section 8.

Patti Ziegler, housing programs coordinator in Mankato, has turned into an advocate of the program, and her department has emerged as a leader in administering it. The Mankato housing authority has helped 24 people use the vouchers to buy a home, the highest number of any housing authority in the state.

The Mankato housing department held a seminar Wednesday to teach others around the state how and why they can use Section 8 money to buy homes.

It works like traditional Section 8: The client pays up to 30 percent of their income on housing, and the program pays the rest.

Ziegler said the benefits are clear.

In the case of a disabled person who will be on Section 8 for the rest of their life, the government can pay for a 30-year mortgage instead of a lifetime of rental payments.

It also frees up affordable renting units, helps large families to be adequately housed, and builds confidence and stability for the homeowners.

David Fleischman, who coordinates housing voucher home ownership for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, was also on hand to give a nationwide perspective.

In 2004, he said, these vouchers had been used to buy 800 homes. That number has grown to 15,000 by this year.

In the wake of the foreclosure crisis, some government programs have been blamed for encouraging home ownership among people who can’t afford it. But Fleischman said less than 1 percent of these homes have gone into foreclosure. That’s in large part thanks to the government guarantee that lasts for 15 years — 30 years for disabled people and the elderly.

Participants also are required to clean up their credit, which can take years, attend home-buying classes and be participating in the Section 8 rental voucher program, among other requirements.

Laying all her finances on the table was difficult for Borneke.

“Pride was swallowed,” she said, exaggerating a swallow. “I couldn’t pay my own bills.”

None of the 24 people who’ve used vouchers to buy a home has filed for foreclosure. The 54 other Mankato houses bought with city help are foreclosure-free as well.

Pioneer Bank has been the only local bank willing to work with the city on its voucher home-ownership program.

The extra work deters other banks, Pioneer’s Denise Nienow said, but her bank is agile enough to change its policies.

While Borneke doesn’t use Section 8 vouchers to pay for her home, she’s grateful for the help she received that reduced her down payment to $1,500.

“I never thought I would own my own home. It was beyond my wildest dreams.”

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