As the city grapples with how to expand affordable housing for New Yorkers, supporting homeownership is critical to ensuring New Yorkers can live near their jobs and share in the opportunities of the economy.
In an op-ed published in City Limits on Monday, Council Member Mark Treyger, Habit for Humanity New York City CEO Karen Haycox, and the Center’s own executive director, Christie Peale advocate for expanding and enhancing down payment assistance for would-be homeowners.
“Expanding and enhancing down-payment assistance is not a silver bullet,” they write, “but would go a long way toward addressing the displacement of our city’s working class and gentrification that excludes longtime residents from sharing in the economic growth of their neighborhoods.”
As we’ve previously written, down payments are often the biggest obstacle to homeownership. And current programs for helping low- and moderate-income New Yorkers seeking to become homeowners and to build wealth simply don’t go far enough in today’s real estate market.
For instance, the city provides financial assistance of up to $15,000 for down payments through the HomeFirst program, which sets eligibility at 80% of area median income or about $62,000 for a family of three. Taking one example, the median cost of a single family home in the Bronx in 2015 was $360,000, making the recommended 20% down payment a seemingly insurmountable $72,000.
The authors of the City Limits op-ed make it clear: HomeFirst should be expanded and other tools should also be considered — including larger loans to home seekers that must be paid back over the long term so that other families can benefit from the funds. San Francisco, a city facing an equally urgent housing crisis of its own, offers down payment assistance loans of up to $200,000.
“This is not a proposal for a hand out, but rather a hand up,” the three op-ed authors write. “This is not a plan for millionaires, but rather would help those who are the very lifeblood of our city: our nurses, teachers, and transit workers, police and firemen.”