State News
September 25, 2015

Governor kicks off new downpayment assistance program

On Sept. 18, Executive Director Sarah Carpenter of the Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) announced that Governor Shumlin has joined leaders from VHFA, the Vermont Legislature and the business community to launch a bold new effort to help the state’s first-time homebuyers. Each qualified buyer will receive up to $5,000 for downpayment and closing costs.

There is mounting evidence that the escalation of these costs in recent years, combined with other economic hardships lingering from the recession, are preventing many young Vermonters from buying their first home.

The new program will provide first-time homebuyers who use a VHFA mortgage with up to $5,000 that needs repayment only if the home is sold or refinanced.

“Because our typical customer is buying their first home and is eight years younger than the average home buyer statewide, VHFA is a great vehicle for reaching those households struggling most to save for a home,” explained Carpenter. Nationally, the recession reduced homeownership rates by 15 percent among young people (aged 35-44)—far more than among older age groups, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census.

“I was happy to sign this bill that supports our state’s workers and future leaders in their goal of achieving homeownership,” said Governor Peter Shumlin. “Vermont is a great place to live and work, and through this program with VHFA we are helping make that more affordable,” he added.

The median household income of Vermont renters has remained flat since the recession, at about $30,000. Income stagnation creates a “perfect storm” for young renters just starting their careers who are trying to save to buy home and also face rising rents and utility costs and high levels of student debt.

“Providing young Vermonters with tools to purchase a home is good for working families and the companies that employ them,” noted Shap Smith, speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives. “Vermonters and employers have shared with me that there is a critical need to support young adults as they start their Vermont careers. This program will help grow and sustain the state’s work force by helping households who want to put down roots and earn a living in Vermont.”

“Vermont’s strong homeownership base and recovering housing market are central to the stability and vitality of the state’s economy,” remarked Kevin Mullin, chair of the Vermont Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs. “By helping with the simple but enormous task of saving for a down payment, we not only help individual home buyers, but their neighborhoods and communities,” he continued.

The program is funded through a temporary expansion of the Vermont housing tax credit program, passed as part of this year’s economic development bill. Each year for the next three years, the additional tax credits will be sold by VHFA to Union Bank and converted to equity for downpayment assistance. VHFA expects this will translate into enough downpayment and closing costs assistance for approximately 115 first-time buyers each year.

“We are delighted to partner with VHFA on this exciting initiative,” remarked Karyn Hale of Union Bank. When VHFA approached its partner lenders who have purchased housing tax credits in the past, Union Bank generously offered to purchase all three years’ credit allocations at a rate that will enable the program to reach the maximum number of home buyers.

Union Bank is one of many Vermont lenders that VHFA works with statewide. These lenders meet with home buyers and explain program details and restrictions. A list of these lenders and information about the new downpayment assistance program (called the “ASSIST loan”) is at www.vhfa.org.

The Vermont Legislature created VHFA in 1974 to finance and promote affordable housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income Vermonters. Since its inception, the agency has helped approximately 28,000 Vermont households with affordable mortgages and financed the development of approximately 8,600 affordable rental units.

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