More down payment help for metro Phoenix homebuyers

March 4, 2017
Arizona Republic
Catherine Reagor, Arizona Republic

Reese Miller searched for a home in metro Phoenix for almost two years before finding one he wanted and could afford.

Last year, the 42-year-old North Dakota native was able to close on his $125,000 west Phoenix home with a few thousand dollars from Home in Five Advantage, a popular Valley down payment assistance program.

Miller is one of 14,000 Phoenix-area homeowners who have received as much as 4 percent of the cost of their house from the program that was recently expanded.

Five years ago, the Phoenix and Maricopa industrial development authorities teamed up to create a fund to help mostly first-time homebuyers get 30-year government-backed mortgages with up to 3 percent in grants for down payments and closing costs.

Those two costs keep many people renting when they dream of buying. Including Miller. I have talked to several homebuyers who got help from Home in Five since it was launched. All have been excited about owning their own home and have spread the word about the program.

Home in Five is for buyers making less than $89,000 a year and buying houses priced below $300,000. Recently, the program upped down payment aid to homebuyers earning less than $31,450 to $5,000.

“An additional 1 percent down payment assistance will help lower-income families overcome a major barrier to homeownership and achieve the financial stability that comes with it,” said Phoenix IDA Executive Director Juan Salgado.

Home in Five isn’t a taxpayer-backed program. The development authorities sell bonds to investors and lenders to provide the aid to homeowners.

Investors wouldn’t keep buying bonds to expand the program if it wasn’t working. Less than half a percent of Home in Five borrowers have lost their houses to foreclosure. An 8-hour homeownership class is required to get the funds.

And I checked. The half dozen Home in Five borrowers I have talked to all still own their home, and their values have climbed nicely.

Part of the motive in creating Home in Five was to spur homebuying in Valley neighborhoods hit hard by foreclosures during the crash. Another Arizona housing program helps buyers purchase specifically in those areas.

The Arizona Housing Dept.’s Pathway to Purchase programs helps buyers with a 10 percent down payment, if they purchase in 17 areas across the state hit hardest by the crash.

In the Valley, someone can buy in Avondale, Buckeye, El Mirage, Goodyear or the city of Maricopa to qualify. The program was launched a year ago, and already more than 3,200 buyers have received an average of $16,200 in downpayment help through it.

Many of the buyers in these programs could probably stretch to buy on their own, but it would leave them with less savings and money to put into their houses

“Without the down payment assistance, I would have tapped out my savings,” said Miller, who works as a maintenance supervisor at Mountainside Fitness in Peoria. “I would have never had the money to do all the extras. Since moving in, I painted the interior from floor to ceiling, replaced all the light fixtures and bought appliances.

He pays about $130 more on the mortgage for his two-bedroom, two-bathroom house than he did to rent a small one-bedroom apartment.

The home Miller purchased was taken back by a lender early during the crash in 2009. Like many Valley foreclosure houses then, it likely sat vacant and run down for a while.

His neighbors must be thrilled to have an owner who is putting money back into his house and helping boost their values. I know I was when the foreclosure home across the street from me was purchased and fixed up.

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