New York

$25 Million County Program Aims to Help SJSU Workers Buy Homes

Buying a home in the Bay Area is a daunting, and for many, a seemingly impossible goal, and nowhere is that more apparent than in Santa Clara County, where the median home price is more than $1 million.

But the county is trying to help by bringing out its checkbook, targeting educators at San Jose State University. Many of those attending a Santa Clara County workshop helped lead SJSU to the No. 5-ranked public school in the nation. And while they're proud to work in the South Bay, a good number of them can't afford to buy a home there.

The workshop was for the county's Empower Homebuyers program, which is using $25 million to help first-time buyers by paying 17 percent of the usual 20 percent down payment for those who qualify.

"I have a great job, very secure, very stable job," said Erin Estabrooks, an IT specialist at SJSU. "So as far as coming up with monthly payments, that’s not an issue. It’s that huge chunk of a down payment you have to come up with that is impossible. Especially for a single mom."

Supervisor Cindy Chavez explained the program further.

"The family has to come up with three percent," Chavez said. "They don’t have to pay us back until they sell the home."

The assistance is a godsend for many.

"It was harder to find affordable living houses here than it was in New York," said Quyen Grant, a computer engineering administrator at SJSU.

There are limitations. The house has to be $800,000 or less, and to qualify a family can’t make more than $150,000 a year, and a single person can't make more than $105,000.

Michael Bowling, a clinical science supervisor at the university, works a second job to save for a down payment and now makes too much to qualify for the county program.

"I’m just seeing if I need to take the gamble of quitting that job and see if I can qualify for this loan," Bowling said, adding that if he qualifies for the loan, he would need a second job to help pay for the home.

County officials say there are many options with the Empower Homebuyers program that people can explore on the county's website. And since the $25 million comes from Measure A funds, more money might be available in the future.

For more information about the Empower Homebuyers program, visit the Housing Trust Silicon Valley website.

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