Home buyers Get a Leg Up on Down Payment

The down payment is the main reason why many people come up short in the homebuying quest. Fortunately, there's hope from a program that shares the name of Olympic track star Renaldo Nehemiah. Like the former hurdler, the Nehemiah Program lets home buyers leap financial hurdles and fulfill their dreams of home ownership. If you're lucky enough to qualify for it, you'll receive the down payment in a gift. Starting in California in 1994, the nonprofit oranization has already helped more than 5,000 homeowners who lacked funds for a down payment.

Actually, the organization takes its name from the Old Testament according to its founder Reverend Don Harris, but the concept couldn't be simpler. Nehemiah acts as a financial catalyst to home ownership. Here's how it works. The seller agrees to donate 4 percent of the sales price to the Nehemiah Program which in turn provides 3 percent to the homebuyer in down payment assistance. The gift of the down payment does not have to be repaid but the homebuyer must come up with 1 percent of the purchase price for certain items such as the appraisal fee, credit report and hazard insurance. The Nehemiah Progressive Housing Development Corp. makes 1 percent on each transaction to cover its expenses.

If it sounds too good to be legitimate ask the Federal government--the program's fully approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In fact, it's only available as an FHA loan (but it receives no government subsidies). In addition to obtaining approval for an FHA loan, the loan applicant takes a home ownership education course. And of course, the seller must agree to pay the 4 percent fee at closing. Although some fear that sellers would simply tack on 4 percent to the sales price, HUD requires the transaction to be tied to an appraisal.

The Sacramento-based organization gained approval from HUD to operate nationally as of April, 1998. Already, first-time home buyers on the east coast have bought homes with Nehemiah's assistance. Mortgage companies have to undergo training to handle the paperwork. For more information, see the Nehemiah program's web site at www.nehemiahprogram.org.

Sources used to create this article include writer M. Fahey and The Journal Newspapers.