How San Jose teacher and stay-at-home mom were able to afford to buy a home

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- The pandemic and the economic turmoil that ensued have caused some moderate-income home buyers to be cautious about pursuing their dream of ownership. Yet when there is chaos, there is opportunity.

It's a big commitment to buy a house in a county where the median price is $1.4 million. That was giving school teacher David Wulff and his wife Karina Gallardo, a stay-at-home mom, reason to consider moving away to pursue their dream, given their moderate income.


However, they moved into a three-bedroom, two-bath San Jose house two weeks ago, thanks to a special program aimed at teachers, first responders and service workers. Seven-year-old Kaira and five-year-old Joel couldn't be happier.

"How do you like your new house?" we asked them. They both responded, "very good."

Housing Trust Silicon Valley administers the loan program, called Empower. The pandemic has given some potential applicants cold feet.

"There is probably a quarter of them saying, no, we're waiting, and the other quarter saying, no, because of the pandemic, we're going to move forward," said Julie Mahowald, CFO and interim CEO at the Housing Trust.

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Walking through San Francisco's South of Market and Financial District feels like a ghost town, as 90-percent of the city's workforce is working from home and people are leaving the city.

The Wulff-Gallardo family had three percent saved up toward a 20 percent down payment. Empower fills the gap with a 17 percent loan, funded by a bond measure passed by voters four years ago.

"A lot of people told us that right now wasn't the time to do it, and you know, like you heard a lot of comments and opinions," said Karina Gallardo. "But for us, it was a sacrifice that we were gonna do for our kids."

The pandemic may have helped in one regard. There's a limit of $800,000 on the purchase price. That posed a challenge during boom times but it's not as difficult now. A Zillow search for homes priced from $400,000 to $800,000 resulted in 20 listings in just one San Jose neighborhood.

Homeownership is a major commitment, but one that has had a positive impact on the Wulff-Gallardo family.

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"We were in a second-floor apartment," said physical education teacher and coach David Wulff. "We always felt like we were bothering the neighbors below us, and we felt like the children shouldn't be, we didn't want them to play because of the noise. But we felt like we're taking away their childhood."

Kaira and Joel have a yard to play in and to practice folklorico dancing. Mom and Dad won't have to repay the Empower loan until later when they sell or refinance.
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