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State housing panel backs loans for Joplin

Developers rebuilding homes after a devastating tornado in Joplin could get a boost from the state under a $10 million loan fund authorized Thursday by Missouri’s low-income housing agency.

The plan approved by the Missouri Housing Development Commission will make money available to developers of single-family housing that can be sold to families with incomes of up to about $84,000 annually. The loan program, which is intended to help jumpstart the rebuilding process, will run through September 2012.

The May 22 tornado killed 160 people in the Joplin area and destroyed more than 7,000 residences. Of those homes, more than 4,600 were rental units, including more than 3,600 that were occupied by lower-income tenants, according to figures from the state housing development commission. About 550 were operating under formal government programs for low-income housing.

In addition to the construction loan program for owner-occupied homes, the housing commission gave preliminary approval Thursday to a proposal that would allot up to $100 million of federal and state income tax credits for the development of affordable apartments in Joplin and the St. Louis area community of Berkley, which was hit by a tornado in April.

The commission scheduled public hearings to solicit comment on the tax credit plan for Aug. 17-19 in Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield, and is expected to vote on the plan Aug. 25.

Under the plan, half the tax credits would apply to federal taxes and the other half to state taxes. They would be allotted over a 10-year period beginning in 2012, but the tax-credit vouchers could be sold by recipients to generate upfront cash for construction projects.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who is a member of the housing commission, questioned Thursday whether the panel had received sufficient written documentation from Joplin area officials about the need for the housing tax credits. He also questioned the impact of the tax breaks.

Commission staff said the tax credits could finance about 450 housing units, if developers spent about $120,000 per unit and received a typical price for the sale of the tax credit vouchers.

“We will not be overbuilding Joplin at all by making this award of tax credits,” said the commission’s executive director, Margaret Lineberry.

Also Thursday, the commission approved $150,000 — which will be paired with an additional $200,000 from the Department of Economic Development — to offer credit-counseling services to Joplin residents whose homes were hit by the tornado.

Lineberry said the financial advice is important because about half the residences hit by the tornado either were not insured or had policies that did not cover the full replacement costs for the homes.

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