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Program offers $15,000 in down payment grants to wannabe homebuyers in 5 metro Denver counties

More than 200 families and residents struggling to buy a home in metro Denver may receive assistance through a program offered by Wells Fargo for the second year in Colorado.

the program will provide home buying assistance grants of up to $15,000 to people who typically earn about 80 percent of the median income level in Denver, Adams Jefferson, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.

The program was launched in 2012 to provide grants for low- and moderate-income people across the country who otherwise would qualify for a home loan but cannot meet rising home prices, officials said.

“We had to come up with something,” said Julie Fogerson, regional spokeswoman for Wells Fargo. “For a lot of folks who live in places like the Denver metro area where housing has become so scarce … home ownership can be a difficult process.”

More than 50 NeighborhoodLIFT programs have been created, including a 2014 pilot program in Denver.

This year, the program in Colorado is expanding across the metro area and is specifically reaching out to teachers, first responders, veterans and active duty military.

“We expanded the special parameters in recognition of these folks’ service to the community,” Fogerson said. “There is an affordability crisis we are seeing that is impacting people choosing (certain) careers like teachers and firefighters, and it’s not uncommon for them to live several miles away from the community where they work.”

Wells Fargo will implement the program with a $4.8 million investment in collaboration with the nonprofit NeighborWorks America and the Westminster-based Community Resources and Housing Development Corporation. The money will be divided among about 250 people trying to buy a home in the five counties.

“We are very excited to see the launch and roll out of the NeighborhoodLIFT program,” said Brenda Mascarenas, director of housing programs and services for the Adams County Housing Authority. “Funding availability has decreased in Adams County for homeowners over the past several years, and this program gives them another option when it comes to down payment assistance programs offered in our communities.”

Douglas County residents could combine the NeighborhoodLIFT grant with a county grant that offers up to $25,000 for homebuyers.

“With housing prices continuing to climb, our first responders, our teachers and our civil servants are finding it very difficult to be able to afford to purchase anything without substantial savings,” said Artie Lehl, programs manager for the Douglas County Housing Partnership. “And by that I mean $20,000 to $30,000 to put down in addition to our payment assistance program. It’s very difficult.”

Qualified residents could use the programs and their savings to offer a significant down payment, he said.

“What we can do and what they can do will open up a whole new realm of possibilities for our citizens,” Lehl said. “As a high-cost county, this will be a big help.”

The program is expected to make a significant impact for families in Aurora.

“We’re all aware of how expensive home ownership is in this metro area right now,” said Aurora Mayor Steve Hoga. “Yet, home ownership is key to getting ahead. These are grants for people who might not otherwise get into a home, and it can be forgiven over five years, and that’s very special. This is exactly what we should be doing to make this a better region and a better community.”

NeighborhoodLIFT applicants must have or be in the process of receiving a qualified loan in Denver, Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas or Jefferson counties.

“Anything that can help folks access housing is very helpful, especially because there is such a housing shortage in the metro area,” said Linda Haley, senior resources division manager for Arapahoe County. “If folks can access home ownership, that frees up apartments for other people and keeps everything moving.”

Denver’s pilot NeighborhoodLIFT program in 2014 encompassed a $5.65-million commitment that provided $4.5 million in grants for homebuyers — 252 people and families purchased homes.

“That money was definitely all spoken for very quickly,” Fogerson said.

The NeighborhoodLIFT program has served 14,541 families in five years.

People interested in applying for the program should go to the NeighborhoodLIFT informational event Sept. 8-9 at the Denver Marriot Tech Center to see if they qualify. The event includes homebuyer education and credit counseling sessions provided by nonprofits.

“We have received an incredible response, with more than 500 (potential) homebuyers registered,” Fogerson said. “Those who don’t have an appointment can still walk in, and we recommend they come prepared with all of the documents necessary to apply for a mortgage.”

The Denver Post