LIBERTY, Utah (ABC4 Utah) – Intermountain Healthcare has announced a new project in their commitment to address the social determinants of health in underserved communities by supporting Rocky Mountain Homes Fund to provide affordable and stable housing options in Weber County.
The nonprofit Rocky Mountain Homes Fund offers a first-of-its-kind intermediary step for low- to moderate-income families in Weber County that puts them on a clear path to homeownership.
“Rocky Mountain Homes Fund provided us with a great opportunity to improve the health of the community by addressing housing instability for essential service workers in Weber County,” said Nicholas Fritz, Impact Investing director for Intermountain Healthcare.
The recent increase in home prices nationally, and especially in Utah, has left families struggling to purchase homes. One of the main barriers to entry into homeownership is the down payment. For low- to moderate-income families, coming up with a down payment can be virtually impossible.
Another barrier that often gets overlooked but that has become even more of an issue with rising home prices is the affordability of monthly mortgage payments. Credit score, credit history, and income levels factor heavily into available interest rates and monthly payment amounts, often becoming another major barrier to overcome for potential buyers – particularly those lower on the socioeconomic scale.
Many families faced with these barriers choose to simply remain in the rental market. However, the Utah rental market has been extremely volatile in the last year, with some landlords increasing monthly rents by hundreds of dollars. This has resulted in a significant increase in housing instability for low- to moderate-income individuals and families as they are forced by rising rents to relocate or face homelessness.
“Homeownership is the cornerstone of the American Dream. Rocky Mountain Homes Fund is designed to help stable individuals and families who should be homeowners, not renters. By removing some of the most significant barriers, and providing them with an opportunity to participate in equity from day one in the program, we will help these individuals and families take the first steps towards homeownership and fulfilling the promise of the American dream,” said Steve Waldrip, co-founder of Rocky Mountain Homes Fund.
Abby and Kevin Reader of Roy, Utah and their three young children are participants in the program. Abby, a choir teacher, was renting a cramped, 900-square-foot house for their family of five. She was desperate to find something that offered more space, but there was nothing within their financial reach.
“The down payment was always the issue. Then the home prices started going up,” said Abby Reader. “I had given up on ever getting a house.”
When she was at a school orientation, the Rocky Mountain Homes Fund opportunity was brought up to the teachers. Reader thought that this was the best chance to get a home finally.
“The process was very smooth,” Reader said. “Eight weeks later, we had a house. The kids love the extra room as we basically tripled the amount of space they have to run around.”
This is just one of several success stories celebrated by Intermountain Healthcare and Rocky Mountain Homes Fund in Weber County this year. They credit the successes to the unique approach offered by the program.
The approach is simple: remove barriers.
Each family is carefully vetted to ensure the program is right for them. They are not required to make a down payment. Their monthly payments are based on affordable interest rates and are stable for up to 10 years regardless of market fluctuations. And, as the families make their monthly payments and the home increases in value, they participate in the equity generated. This provides them with a powerful vehicle to accumulate wealth during the 10-year period of the program.
“Our ultimate goal is to help people who might not otherwise have the means enjoy the benefits of homeownership,” said Waldrip. “We take our responsibility to our families very seriously and will not accept a family into the program if they aren’t ready and able to reap these benefits.”
Nonprofit Intermountain is one of the lead investors in Rocky Mountain Homes Fund. Housing instability is a social determinant of health – non-medical factors that affect a person’s overall health and welfare. Affordable, stable, and high-quality housing is a key barrier to good health for underserved populations in Weber County.
Evidence of the connection between housing and health has been well documented in many studies. One study found that people experiencing housing instability and food insecurity had poor access to regular health care with a primary care physician and significantly higher rates of emergency room use for issues that should have been resolved much earlier with a primary care physician.
Research has also found that worsening housing instability is associated with increased rates of being uninsured, postponing needed care, postponing medications, and an increase in hospitalization rates. The body of evidence suggests that improving housing stability alone may help increase access to regular healthcare, and this increased access to regular healthcare can dramatically improve health outcomes.
Intermountain is currently conducting a three-year demonstration project in Washington and Weber counties in Utah called the Alliance for the Determinants of Health that addresses the social determinants of health. Their investment in Rocky Mountain Homes Fund is intended to support that effort.
To find out more about the Rocky Mountain Homes Fund, visit rmhf.net.
Watch Healthy Choices, sponsored by Intermountain Healthcare, every Tuesday and Thursday during the 4 o’clock hour on ABC4 Utah. Learn more about the services and programs offered by Intermountain Healthcare online.