A new state-wide housing program distributed about $1.2 million in down payments to frontline workers in the greater Tampa Bay region in June.
It was the first month that the Florida Hometown Heroes Residential Program began making loans to eligible home buyers of up to $25,000 to use for down payment and closing costs.
According to the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, thousands of loan officers at 226 participating lenders across the state work with clients to reserve Hometown Heroes loans.
As of July 1, 421 homebuyers had $5.5 million in active loans set aside in the state of Florida, according to a Florida Housing spokesperson.
Of that, nearly 20% was distributed to home buyers in the greater Tampa Bay area.
“What I often hear from my clients is that rents are rising,” said Stacey Cropsey, a loan officer at SWBC Mortgage, who primarily works with first-time homebuyers in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. “So these tenants are being evicted from their homes.”
Cropsey said the program is encouraging more middle-class workers in the Tampa Bay area to explore home ownership.
Many first-time home buyers faced barriers such as qualifying for a loan or paying the down payment on a home.
“So that’s where these programs come in handy,” Cropsey said.
The Florida Hometown Heroes Housing Program is the latest housing utility deployed by the Florida Housing Finance Corporation.
Earlier this year, the Florida legislature provided $100 million to the program designed to help frontline workers buy homes in the communities in which they work.
Qualified home buyers can apply for loans up to $25,000 or 5 percent of the home’s purchase price. The money is borrowed through a 0%, 30-year second mortgage that can be repaid in one go. It must be repaid in full once the house is sold or refinanced.
Compared to other utilities, Hometown Heroes program qualifications offer a high income cap and more extensive eligibility requirements.
In most cases, to qualify, Floridians must be a first-time homebuyer with a credit score of 640, have annual household incomes totaling between $118,950 and $129,480, at 150% of the area’s median income, and work in one of over 100 qualifying professions spanning various industrial sectors: law enforcement, education, health care, and active or former military personnel.
Cropsey said the more comprehensive eligibility requirements for a Hometown Heroes loan set this program apart from other aid available.
Fellows, or spouses and relatives living with eligible home buyers, may apply for the loan; veterans, unlike active military workers, can also benefit even if they are not buying a home for the first time; and certain mobile homes are eligible for assistance, something Cropsey has noticed is becoming a more popular and affordable option among homebuyers.
Trey Price, the executive director of Florida Housing, said the Hometown Heroes program is designed to help essential workers who can no longer afford to live in the communities they serve.
“The Hometown Heroes program is designed to ease that burden,” he wrote in an emailed statement. “We’re targeting middle-class people who may not qualify for any of our other resources, but still can’t afford to become homeowners because of the extra finances and savings required for down payments and closing costs when buying a home. House.”
He urged Floridians who believe they are eligible to review the requirements and contact a participating lender.
Gabriella Paul covers the stories of people living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay area for WUSF. She is also a Report for America corps member. Here’s how you can share your story with her.