• Government vouchers for rentals can be used for homebuyers, too.
  • In areas where housing is in short supply, vouchers and the education programs that surround them can help qualified buyers make the leap into homeownership.
  • HUD programs have been around for many years, and support renters and buyers with tools.

It’s well-known that housing prices in some metros are through the roof. Houses move fast, bidding wars take place, and many eager homeowners-to-be are squeezed out. In most places, the need for affordable housing outstrips the supply, and even those who mind their financial manners find homeownership out of reach.

Since, 2000, though, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has been trying to chip away at the problem of qualified, diligent buyers not gaining entry into the housing market.

HUD’s Homeownership Voucher Program exists to give a hand-up, not a handout, to eager buyers. Local housing authorities administer the program in their coverage area, and they choose how many of the vouchers they are willing to fund. The program is widely available across the country.

In the DC-Baltimore metro, this program has proved to be effective in not only allowing many entry into the home purchase market, but serves to help tackle a little bit of the affordable housing crisis.

Vouchers are a tool in the arsenal that are often overlooked, or completely forgotten. Many people incorrectly believe that vouchers only help defray the cost of rental housing, but that’s not at all the case.

Voucher programs help residents become homeowners

One Prince William County couple, Deborah Jackson and her husband, told The Washington Post their story recently. They said that the voucher program helped them become homeowners.

She received housing vouchers for 13 years for rentals in both Pennsylvania and Virginia. The same program helped them buy their first home in Triangle, Va., late last year — a pre-foreclosure 3,700-square-foot five-bedroom, three-bath house.

She told the newspaper that the vouchers were not merely handed to her – classes on homebuying and budgeting were requirements of the program. She and others stress that the counseling that they receive helps participants improve their credit scores, critical to purchasing a home, yet a process that takes patience and years of self-discipline.

And, saving for a downpayment is part of the program, too.

The long process and the measured, enduring steps toward the biggest purchase of a family’s life still shakes off many wannabes. Even those in the know about housing voucher programs say that the program is not taken advantage of as often as it could be.

Renters and homeowners get the same amount through the program, based on income guidelines for the metro area.  In D.C., the median income benchmark is $109,200. But, as with many programs aimed toward low-income families, there is a carve-out of 75 percent of new vouchers for households that earn 30 percent or less of the area’s median income.

The programs stipulates that those who want to buy homes must be first-time homebuyers, and already have an existing rental voucher. Additional income guidelines and duration of employment rules also apply.

And, of course, participants must take the classes that give them a clear-eyed view of everything involved in homeownership.

Email Kimberley Sirk

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