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More and more people are finding themselves living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region. In some places, rent has doubled. The cost of everyday goods — like gas and groceries — keeps creeping up. All the while, wages lag behind and the affordable housing crisis looms. Amid cost-of-living increases, WUSF is focused on documenting how people are making ends meet.

Homebuying program for frontline workers provides over $5 million to Floridians in its first month

Housing for sale
Gabriella Paul
/
WUSF Public Media
A "For Sale" sign is posted in the front lawn of a newly constructed home in East Tampa.

For eligible homebuyers, the Hometown Heroes program can offer up to $25,000 in down-payment and closing-cost assistance.

A new statewide housing program dispersed about $1.2 million in down-payment assistance for frontline workers in the greater Tampa Bay region during June.

It was the first month the Florida Hometown Heroes Housing Program began providing eligible homebuyers loans of up to $25,000 to use for down-payment and closing-cost assistance.

Thousands of loan officers at 226 participating lender institutions across the state are working with clients to reserve Hometown Heroes loans, according to the Florida Housing Finance Corporation.

As of July 1, 421 homebuyers had reserved $5.5 million in active loans across the state of Florida, according to a Florida Housing spokesperson.

Of those, nearly 20% were distributed to homebuyers in the greater Tampa Bay region.

“What I'm hearing from my clients, a lot of the time, is the rents are going up,” said Stacey Cropsey, a loan officer with SWBC Mortgage who primarily works with first-time homebuyers in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. “So these renters are getting kicked out of their homes.”

Cropsey said the program is pushing more middle-class workers in the Tampa Bay area to explore homeownership.

Many first-time homebuyers had faced barriers, such as qualifying for a loan or affording the down payment on a house.

“So that's where these programs come in,” Cropsey said.

The Florida Hometown Heroes Housing Program is the latest housing assistance program deployed by the Florida Housing Finance Corporation.

Earlier this year, the Florida Legislature provided $100 million to the program designed to help frontline workers purchase homes in the communities they work in.

Qualified home buyers can apply for loans of up to $25,000 or 5 percent of the loan amount. The money is borrowed through a 0%, 30-year second mortgage that can be repaid in a lump sum. It must be paid back in full once the home is sold or refinanced.

Compared to other assistance programs, qualifications for the Hometown Heroes program offer a high-income ceiling and more expansive eligibility requirements.

To qualify, in most cases, Floridians must be a first-time homebuyer with a credit score of 640, have an annual household income totaling between $118,950 and $129,480, at 150% of area median income, and work in one of over 100 qualifying occupations that span several industry sectors: law enforcement, education, healthcare and active or former military.

Cropsey said the more expansive requirements to qualify for a Hometown Heroes loan is what sets this program apart from other available assistance.

Co-borrowers, or spouses and family members who live with qualifying homebuyers, are allowed on the loan; veterans, unlike active military employees, could also benefit even if they are not first-time homebuyers; and certain mobile homes qualify for assistance, something Cropsey has noticed becoming a more popular and affordable option among homebuyers.

Trey Price, the executive director of Florida Housing, said the Hometown Heroes program was designed to help essential workers who can no longer afford to live in the communities they serve.

“The Hometown Heroes program was designed to ease that burden," he wrote in an email statement. "We are catching those middle-class individuals who may not qualify for any of our other resources, but still cannot afford to become a homeowner due to the extra finances and savings that are required for down payment and closing costs when purchasing a home."

He urged Floridians who think they may qualify to review the requirements and connect with a participating lender.

Gabriella Paul covers the stories of people living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region for WUSF. She's also a Report for America corps member. Here’s how you can share your story with her.

I tell stories about living paycheck to paycheck for public radio at WUSF News. I’m also a corps member of Report For America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.
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