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Homeownership may seem like a distant dream for many in the Bay Area, but a returning Wells Fargo program aims to help make it a reality for residents of six area counties.
On Tuesday, Wells Fargo announced the launch of the NeighborhoodLIFT program in the Bay Area — a $9.5 million project aiming to boost home ownership in the region by providing $25,000 in down payment assistance to 359 eligible homebuyers.
“The economic fallout caused by COVID-19 has only exacerbated the housing affordability challenges in the Bay Area,” said Max Seetho, Wells Fargo Bank region president for the Silicon Valley, in a statement.
“While affordability and inventory continue to pose challenges, this initiative will make a positive impact on the lives of more low- and moderate-income families by putting them on a pathway to housing stability, wellness, and wealth accumulation through successful homeownership,” Seetho said.
“We have much more work to do to broaden economic opportunity in the Bay Area and it’s heartening to see Wells Fargo launch an initiative that embraces homeownership as the surest path to financial resilience for our families struggling on modest incomes.”Sam Liccardo, San Jose mayor
Residents of Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Solano counties who earn 80 percent or less than the median household income in their respective county are encouraged to apply.
In order to be eligible for the assistance, interested individuals must be pre-approved for a housing loan from a participating NeighborhoodLIFT lender and complete an eight-hour course on homebuyer education.
“The required homebuyer education provided by trained professionals better prepares NeighborhoodLIFT homebuyers to achieve their goal of sustainable homeownership,” Lisa Hasegawa, regional vice president, Western region with NeighborWorks America said.
Giving future homeowners a LIFT
NeighborhoodLIFT also allocates $525,000 of the $9.5 million to local housing counseling organizations to assist 700 interested homebuyers with housing counseling.
In the Bay Area, nearly half of renters use more than 30 percent of their income on housing, and for the bottom 25 percent of cost-burdened renters, rent takes more than half of their income, according to a 2020 Harvard study.
Those staggering statistics make it hard for individuals or families to accumulate wealth and build equity, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said, but putting people on the path of homeownership is a part of the solution.
“We have much more work to do to broaden economic opportunity in the Bay Area and it’s heartening to see Wells Fargo launch an initiative that embraces homeownership as the surest path to financial resilience for our families struggling on modest incomes,” said Liccardo.
Don Gilmore, executive director of Community Housing Development Corporation, said the $25,000 of down payment assistance is only part of the support offered in the region and encouraged prospective homebuyers to layer assistance.
The California Housing Finance Agency is one of the agencies Gilmore is talking about. And though their down payment assistance is not hefty as the LIFT program, the state agency has higher assistance rates specifically for teachers, firefighters and veterans.
Gilmore also noted that NeighborhoodLIFT is unique “in how it changes lives by moving away from the uncertainty of renting by making homeownership more affordable, achievable, and sustainable.”
Tuesday’s expansion of the NeighborhoodLIFT program marks Wells Fargo’s 80th program launch and follows similar Bay Area initiatives in 2012 and 2017 that provided 536 homeowners with down payment assistance.
Renters no longer
Fairfield resident Montie Cross, a retired technology company worker, was one of those 536 individuals who purchased her family’s home with NeighborhoodLIFT down payment assistance.
“This is my first-time owning a home so working with the credit counselor to prepare for the steps to qualify for a mortgage made everything go smooth,” Cross said in a statement. “This is my house now and I don’t need to rent any longer.”
Since 2012, Wells Fargo has invested $511 million in NeighborhoodLIFT and other LIFT programs across the country as part of Wells Fargo Foundation’s commitment to donate $1 billion in support of housing affordability solutions.
In the Bay Area, the Wells Fargo Foundation financed 34 affordable housing developments and supported the construction or renovation of 4,045 rental homes for residents at risk of homelessness as a result of climbing housing costs.
Applications open on Feb. 1, 2021 and will remain open for a week only. If 359 or fewer individuals apply, all that are eligible will get the down payment assistance. If there are more than 359 applicants, eligible individuals will be chosen through a lottery system, Gilmore said.
Interested individuals should visit the Wells Fargo NeighborhoodLIFT site for additional information and steps to apply.
To see participating lenders and sign up for approved homebuyer education courses, visit the Community Housing Development Corporation’s website.