South Bay down payment assistance program may not be enough

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Housing is a big issue in the Bay Area. As part of our commitment to Building a Better Bay Area, we're taking a deeper look at how professors are having a hard time finding a place to live in Santa Clara County.

The county is starting to roll out a new program, funded by a $950 million bond that voters approved in 2016. That bond was designed to address "the housing needs of the community's poorest and most vulnerable residents." However, the program also helps first-time buyers get a down payment. Highly educated professors need that help, and San Jose State University risks losing them if they can't stay and raise their families in the South Bay.

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Close to 150 people -- faculty members and staff at San Jose State -- took every seat available in a meeting room to learn details about the county's new down payment assistance program. Among them was Francesca Favaro, an assistant professor of aviation.

"Between the rent and the day care prices for two kids right now, pretty much 60 to 70 percent of our monthly income is gone, and so saving for a down payment is tough," she said.

The Empower Homebuyers Program can provide a down payment loan of up to 17 percent as long as the buyer contributes at least 3 percent. The buyer needs a minimum credit score of 680 and must buy a single-family house in Santa Clara County. Income is capped at just over $105,000 for a single person or just over $150,000 for a family of four.

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"They don't have to pay us back until they sell the home, and the benefit for them is that it makes sure that their payments are a manageable size, and we take a percentage of the appreciation from that home" said County Supervisor Cindy Chavez.

The home price can't exceed $800,000.

"I just looked at Zillow to see how many homes were under the $800,000 threshold, and there were only 16 in the South Bay area," said Leanna Gervais, an academic advisor at San Jose State and a would-be home buyer.

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Leanna makes a good point. However, there can be other stumbling blocks. A house on South 16th St. in San Jose is an example. It's only a few blocks away from campus. It's on the market for $799,000. So it would qualify for the program. However, the inside requires a lot of work, and the seller is looking for an all-cash buyer."

And science lab supervisor Michael Bowling says he's facing a catch-22. He took a second job to save for a down payment. But that puts his income over the limit for this program.

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