City down payment assistance programs make the dream of home ownership less elusive.
Thursday, April 29, 1999
Purchasing a home in Monterey County seems to be an ever-increasing impossibility for many. As real property values continue to rise through the roof, hopes of getting in on the ground floor for a first home fly out the window.
But few renters realize that their city governments may offer assistance for hopeful home buyers. Down payment assistance programs in Monterey, Seaside and Salinas allow wannabe-homeowners to dream the impossible dream by offering low-interest, deferred loans to be used toward a down payment on a home. With a larger down payment, monthly house payments are more affordable.
"It becomes expensive to live here," says Bob Humel, housing and property manager for the city of Monterey, "but we don''t want that to eliminate an important quality of life aspect and the pride of home ownership. We want to keep that open to the citizens."
Besides benevolent feelings toward its citizenry, cities involved in redevelopment have a vested interest in paving the way to home ownership.
"When you establish home ownership," says Jim Claypool, loan specialist for the city of Seaside, "you start putting pride into the house. And that pride spills out into the surrounding community."
But who in the heck can qualify for these programs? One misconception surrounding first-time buyers'' programs is that applicants must be dirt poor to qualify. But that''s not necessarily true. Area assistance programs work on a sliding scale of income. The bigger the family, the larger the allowable household income. While income limits differ from city to city, most allow for moderate-income households to qualify.
The city of Monterey''s down payment assistance program offers qualified applicants a down payment of up to 15 percent of their dream home''s purchase price, at a 5 percent simple interest rate. Buyers are required to put down at least 5 percent from their own pockets.
Repayment of the city''s loan is deferred for five years, at which time buyers can make monthly payments over a 15-year period. Or, deferment can be extended for an additional five years if the household remains eligible.
Household limits to qualify for the Monterey assistance program range from $41,500 annually for a single person to $64,050 for a family of five. Qualified buyers using the program may purchase a home up to $300,000 within Monterey city limits.
Loan recipients don''t necessarily need to be first-time buyers, but cannot have owned a home within the last two years. To qualify, one person within the household must be a current Monterey resident or employed within the city. However, former residents who have previously lived in Monterey for at least five years are also eligible.
To qualify for Seaside''s down payment assistance program, applicants need not be first-time buyers, but cannot have owned a home as their principal place of residence for the last three years.
Seaside offers loans to qualified buyers purchasing homes selling for up to $200,200. The maximum loan amount is $30,000, loaned at a rate of 3 percent simple interest. Repayment is deferred as long as the buyers own the home.
Household income limits for the program range from $27,650 per year for a single person, to $52,150 for a family of eight. Homes purchased under the program must be within Seaside city limits, and qualified applicants must have lived or worked in the city for at least two years.
The city of Salinas down payment assistance program works on a lottery, in which about 20 names are chosen at random from a list of qualified applicants each year.
The program offers prospective home buyers up to $27,000 toward a down payment. That loan is deferred for up to 30 years at 3 percent simple interest. However, if purchasers remain in their homes for the entire 30 years, the interest is forgiven, and only the principle is due. Home buyers are also required to put down at least 3 percent of the home''s price toward the down payment.
To qualify, applicants must be first-time buyers, and must have lived or worked in Salinas for at least two years. Household income limits range from $27,000 for singles, to $50,900 for families of eight.
So, you may be thinking, this all sounds great, but what''s the bad news?
Because income limits on affordable housing programs are set by state and federal standards, the cities themselves have little power to manipulate income limits.
While home buyers must make less than the set limit of household income, they also have to qualify for a mortgage for the remaining purchase price of the home.
That can create a catch-22, in which a buyer may qualify for the program, but doesn''t have enough income to qualify for a home mortgage on a $200,000-plus "starter home."
"It''s referred to as the ''window of opportunity,''" says Humel, "and that window is a narrow one."
"To live in such a desirable area with little room for growth tends to escalate the cost of existing housing," Humel continues. "That''s the natural dynamic of this area, and it''s been a double-edged sword for us for a long time."
But don''t despair. Since its inception in 1988, the city of Monterey''s down payment assistance program has loaned $3.5 million to 169 happy homeowners. And the city of Seaside has created 30 homeowners over the past five years.
And once you do qualify and purchase a home, that home is yours. No more throwing money to the wind, no more making your landlord rich. Any profit you make when you sell is all yours.
Sometimes dreams really do come true.cw