REACH program gets government employees into homes

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - "I don't know what I'm going to do with it yet," said Scott Smajd as he looked around his new house Monday.  "I know it's getting painted."

Choosing the perfect wall color is just one of many things on Smajd's mind.  For him it's the first time detailed decisions like these mean so much.  He closed on his first home Friday.

"It's just a hard thing to pick out," he said, pointing to a list of swatches.

It's those little things that will transform the empty house into a home.

"It's going to be fun," he said.  "It's going to be something I've never done before."

Just a few months ago, he said he thought he would be a renter forever.  He started working with the Regional Employer Assisted Collaboration for Housing, commonly known as the REACH program, in October.  He attended a series of home buyer education classes, financial counseling, and was offered up to $40,000 in down payment and closing cost assistance.

The program is available to public sector workers who want to purchase homes in the three coastal counties.

"It hasn't hit yet," he said of his new home.  "I just come here and look around, and see what I'm going to start next."

He said the main challenge of the REACH program is paperwork, but the counseling sessions are also worthwhile.  He said everyone in the program with him has learned something new.

"If your credit score isn't great, they'll actually counsel you," he said.  "And that's free.  Sometimes people have to pay for that.  So they get your score back up, or teach you what to do and what not to do."

Smajd is the first Ocean Springs employee to close on a home through the program. He said the months prior to closing are demanding, but the payoff is worth the trouble.

"It gets you in a house. Period," he said.  "I mean if you just do what they say and not get discouraged, because boy you get there.  This made it possible. This was the only way it could be done."

Now that the program his over, he's on to new projects, like making his new house his home.

"I can walk through that door, and I'll be home. My house.  I'll be here forever."

Smajd is a mechanic with the Ocean Springs Public Works Department.  He said he plans on living in the home with his family.

People who qualify for the REACH program must work in the public sector, be able to contribute at least $500 toward the home purchase, attend home buyer education classes and financial counseling sessions, in addition to other requirements.

For more information on the REACH program, call (228) 896-3386.

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