Does the Measure A loan program for first-time homebuyers work?

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David Wulff and Karina Gallardo Wulff were planning to leave Santa Clara County if they couldn’t buy a house soon.

The couple, who have two children aged seven and five, have always lived in an apartment. But they wanted more space and a yard, especially for their children to play.

The median selling price of a home in Santa Clara County is $ 1.4 million, while homes in San Jose cost on average just over $ 1 million, according to Zillow. The couple was going to need help no matter how much money they saved.

This is where the County Empower Homebuyers Loan comes in. The program, funded by the Housing Bond Measure A adopted in 2016, is intended to provide up to $ 25 million in down payment loans to first-time home buyers.

The average loan size under the program is just over $ 100,000, while the maximum home value for program buyers is $ 800,000, meaning the loan contributes a share. considerable of the purchase price.

The loan, administered by Housing Trust Silicon Valley, was the only way for David and Karina to buy their first home. When they applied for the Empower loan last year, they were turned down. This year they got help and home.

But they are just one of more than 20 successful applicants who have received Empower loans, even though the program has been up and running for more than two years. Meanwhile, around 80 applications and around 400 interest forms were completed in the first half of 2020 alone.

A Measure A citizen watch committee in September criticized the small amount of loans made so far and said the county should do more to help families buy homes.

Why the big difference?

Potential applicants may be screened out as the loan application process requires in-depth knowledge of the home buying process.

Adria Quinones-Masur, program manager at Housing Trust Silicon Valley, said those who express interest in the loan program are often not fully prepared.

“Some people are just getting started and some are just good to go. Everyone is at different stages, ”said Quinones-Masur. “We always tell people in our presentations that if they are just starting out, it doesn’t matter. We always want to provide information. If they have this dream of home ownership, far from us the idea of ​​preventing them from achieving it.

David Wulff said the first-time application process helped him and his wife figure out what to do differently. The first time around, the couple were well into the process before realizing they wouldn’t have any money in reserve to qualify.

“It’s a really hard thing to keep saving, saving, saving, but it’s worth it,” said Karina Wulff.

This lack of information for first-time buyers is also something the County Supportive Housing Bureau is trying to address. The department adds staff to help guide people through the process, so that a missing document or misunderstanding doesn’t ultimately disqualify applicants.

David Wulff (left) and Karina Gallardo Wulff (right) with their children in the yard of their new home in San Jose. Photo courtesy of David Wulff.

Once the Wulffs got the Empower loan pre-approval, as well as their bank’s mortgage pre-approval, they still had to go out and find a home.

“We must have been lucky, and we did,” said David. “It was a limited inventory. There were a lot of buyers, a lot of interest and little inventory. There were only seven houses in our price range.

Over the past two months, Quinones-Masur said she has seen interest in the program increase even more and that Housing Trust has processed several other loans.

“I think (increased interest) has to do what we have to do lately: Covid-19, low interest rates, more properties have come on the market for the purchase price of 800,000 $ and less – there is more activity, “Quinones- says Masur. “We have had buyers who signed contracts in less than a week. They are probably already looking and have their eye on something. Some people take a little longer, but according to the buyers we’ve seen, they’re serious.

Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] and follow her @MadelynGReese

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