Grant program offers down payment assistance for Alaska homebuyers

A collaboration between a nonprofit and one of the world’s largest banks now promises thousands of dollars in home-buying help for eligible Alaskans around the state. 

The NeighborhoodLIFT program — a partnership between Wells Fargo and NeighborWorks America — will launch in Alaska with a $3.3 million commitment from Wells Fargo, according to the bank. Local executives gathered at Russian Jack Springs Park Wednesday to make the announcement. 

“We have a goal here in Alaska — we want all working families to have their own home,” said Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, joining Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, Wells Fargo Alaska region bank President Greg Deal and nonprofit leaders at the morning press conference.

Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows that as of 2018, Alaska’s homeownership rate hovered around 63.7 percent, the second-lowest it’s been in more than 20 years. A quarterly cost-of-living index published by the Department of Labor and Workforce Development shows housing costs in Anchorage are approximately 38 percent higher than the national average. Housing in Fairbanks costs approximately 18 percent above average, while housing in Juneau costs more than 45 percent above the national average. 

That’s where NeighborhoodLIFT can help, officials said Wednesday. 

The program, launched in 2012, has operated in dozens of communities around the country, offering down payment assistance grants and homebuyer education classes. This is the first year it’s available in Alaska, where NeighborhoodLIFT will open to families earning up to the median area income. For a family of four in Anchorage, the limit is $104,900; in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, the limit is $92,400.

Qualified buyers can receive down payment assistance of $10,000; $12,500 for veterans and service members, teachers and emergency responders. The money is offered as a five-year forgivable loan: As long as the borrower resides in the home, the loan will be forgiven at 20 percent each year. Homebuyers must acquire a mortgage through an approved lender, and participate in homebuyer education classes. The application is available online beginning Aug. 12.

Jim Nordlund, executive director of NeighborWorks Alaska, said the opportunity to expand homeownership has a ripple effect.

“Housing stability and homeownership makes for more secure families, less crime, better success in schools and the building of family wealth,” he said. “These benefit our economy and our communities.”

The new grant program would make a difference for hundreds of Alaskans, Nordlund said Wednesday.

“But really, folks, more needs to be done,” he said. “There is an affordable housing crisis in this country, and in Alaska.”

Kirsten Swann is a producer and reporter for Alaska Public Media.

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