Program to aid workers buy homes

September 28, 2005|By JUNE ARNEY | JUNE ARNEY,SUN REPORTER

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is expected to announce a new program today designed to encourage employers to help their workers buy homes.

Under the new program, called House Keys 4 Employees, eligible homebuyers could receive as much as $15,000 toward a down payment and closing costs, including a state match of up to $5,000 of a participating employer's contribution. The state match is in the form of a 0 percent deferred loan. Programs already in place through the state's housing department cover the initial $5,000.

"The goal is to try to help the work force - policemen, firefighters, teachers and nurses - to buy a house in Maryland," said Tonna Phelps, director of single-family programs for the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. "People are moving out of state and so far from their jobs. When people move out of the state, that's a loss for the state."

Already, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Johns Hopkins University, the city of Annapolis and the College of Notre Dame of Maryland have signed up for the program. And other large employers and small businesses are considering teaming up with the state's housing department, Phelps said.

In cases where an employer pays only part of the $5,000, the state will match contributions from unions, nonprofits or local governments that have live-near-your-work programs, up to a total of the same $5,000 threshold.

"If everyone puts a piece in, we just might be able to help more working families purchase homes," Phelps said. "This isn't for rich people. This really is for working families."

House Keys 4 Employees is an extension of existing state programs to help homebuyers. DHCD's down payment and settlement expense program already provides $5,000 to qualified homebuyers and the Maryland Mortgage Program Plus provides a 2 percent closing cost grant.

Employers would rather have employees live near their jobs, so they are more readily available at short notice and perhaps more willing to stay late or come in on weekends, Phelps said.

"That's why we're trying to get employers involved," Phelps said. "If they will give their employees some help, we will match it dollar for dollar, up to $5,000."

, june.arney@baltsun.com

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