Philadelphia First Time Home Buyer Programs

10 MIN READ

If you are looking to buy your first home, you may find that it is challenging to assemble enough money for a downpayment or secure financing for the purchase.

The good news is that there are several programs, some of them specific to Philadelphia, that can help you purchase your first time first home. Here’s the guide you need!

Program 1: Philly First Home

Philly First Home is a program launched in June of 2019 from the Division of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) that provides home buyer assistance grants to help with down payments or closing costs. The program provides first-time home buyers, or those who haven’t owned a home in the past three years, with up to $10,000 or 6% of the homes purchase price, whichever is less, towards down payments and/or closing costs.

Philly First Home Requirements: 

  • You are buying either a single-family home or duplex in Philadelphia (not a condo) and have been a resident of Philadelphia for three years

  • You must complete a city-funded homeownership counseling program

  • Your family income must be at or below 120% of the Area Median Income (AMI) set by HUD Section 8 annual income limits. The limits posted on the Philly First Home website are a good guide, but HUD has the official numbers

The grant provided by the program becomes a lien on the property’s mortgage. A lien is a legal claim or right against a property, and in this context it represents the grant provided by Philly First Home. After 15 years of ownership the lien will be forgiven. Prior to the 15 year mark, if the homeowner sells the property or refinances, the grant must be repaid. 

Taking Advantage of the Philly First Home Program

Step 1: Visit the Philly First Home website to review all the details

Step 2: Schedule an appointment with a DHCD-funded homeownership counselor

Step 3: Bring information detailing your total annual household income, the source of that income, and the number of people in your family to the first meeting

Step 4: DHCD will determine your eligibility for the program and walk you through the next steps

Program 2: First Front Door

First Front Door (FFD) is a program from the Philadelphia Federal Credit Union that provides a first-time home grant to help with any down payment and closing costs. The program will match the homebuyer’s contribution towards down payments and closing costs in a 3:1 ratio. For every $1 contributed by the homeowner, the program provides $3 up to $5,000. The program is available annually on a first-come, first-serve basis. The program is closed for 2019, but will reopen in 2020.

First Front Door Requirements: 

  • You are a first-time home buyer (meaning you haven’t owned a home in the past three years OR you owned a home while married but not while your were single)

  • You will contribute personal funds towards the down payment and closing costs

  • Your household income is at or below 80% of the AMI using the “low-income limit” determined by HUD

  • You will complete at least 4 hours of homeownership counseling

  • If you’re a student, you work at least 30 hours a week

You are expected to live in the home for at least five years. If the property is sold before the fifth year, you may have to repay all or a portion of the FFD grant. Unlike Philly First Home, you can refinance without any penalty. 

Taking Advantage of the First Front Door Program:

Step 1: Visit the First Front Door website and read through the program manual

Step 2: Meet with your local PFCU representative to determine if you’re eligible for FFD

Step 3: Collect and submit all the necessary financial information and documentation with your representative. FHLBank will process your request within 10 days

Step 4: If your request is approved, counseling will be arranged and then the home will be purchased within 6 months with the support of the FFD grant 

Program 3: Philadelphia Housing Authority Housing Choice Ownership Program

This program provides very low-income, eligible homebuyers with Housing Choice vouchers from HUD to help defray the costs of homeownership. In this program, Housing Choice vouchers are provided by HUD to local public housing agencies, including the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA), to help very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled purchase housing in private real estate markets. If you qualify for this program through the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA), you can use these vouchers towards mortgage payments.

Philadelphia Housing Authority Housing Choice Ownership Program Requirements:

  • You are a first time homebuyer

  • You have completed pre-purchase housing counseling

  • You meet the minimum income requirement of $14,500 a year ($6,624 for disabled families)

  • You have been employed for at least one year and work at least 30 hours a week (Disabled/Elderly are exempt from this requirement)

  • No criminal history in the past 5 years and no history of fraud with federal money

  • The home of interest must pass an inspection by the PHA and an American Society of Home Inspection inspector

The vouchers may be used for up to fifteen years on mortgages of twenty years or more and up to ten years on mortgages of fewer than twenty years. These rules do not apply to the elderly or to disabled families.

Taking Advantage of the PHA Housing Choice Ownership Program

Step 1: Visit the PHA Housing Choice Homeownership program page for more details 

Step 2: Contact the PHA Homeownership Division using the contact information available on their website to determine your eligibility

Step 3: If you’re eligible, visit the PHA application portal to begin the process

Program 4: Philadelphia Housing Financing Agency First Time Homebuyer Program

In this program, the  Philadelphia Housing Financing Agency (PHFA) will take over (buy) your loan at settlement and manage your repayment process. When your loan is managed by the PHFA, you may benefit from a lower interest rate, fewer fees, simpler rate terms, down payment and closing cost assistance. Learn more on the program website.

PHFA First Time Homebuyer Program Requirements:

The most exciting part of this program is the Mortgage Tax Credit Certificate (MCC). This certificate can save you up to $2,000 per year if you meet the following requirements:

  • You and anyone else intending to live in the home up to a year after closing are first-time homebuyers. This does not apply if you are a veteran or are purchasing in a “targeted area

  • The gross annual income of the homebuyer(s) don’t exceed the income limits for the Keystone Home Loan Program (KHLP)

  • The purchase price of the home doesn’t exceed the purchase price limits for the KHLP. This includes all costs for a complete home (the total acquisition cost) which can include down payments, closing costs, and other associated costs

  • You have to complete a PHFA Mortgagor’s Affidavit and sign a Recapture Tax Notice, which satisfy some legal requirements associated with the tax credit

The tax credit has a retention requirement of nine years. If you sell your home fewer than nine years after purchase, you may be subject to a recapture tax

Taking Advantage of the PHFA First Time Homebuyer Program:

Step 1: Visit the PHFA website to review all of the necessary details

Step 2: Contact a PHFA approved homebuyer counselor and one of their participating lenders

Step 3: Once the loan has been closed, PHFA will buy and manage the loan throughout the life of the loan

Other Local Programs of Interest

Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia Lubert IDA Program:

Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) are matched savings programs to assist working individuals in purchasing productive assets, like a first home. The program contributes $2 for every $1 dollar that you save through the IDA up to $2,000. In total, you will have saved $6,000 when your contributions and the matched funds are combined. IDA participants are required to attend financial literacy and homebuyer trainings. Once a participant has completed all of the training and saving requirements, the IDA program will provide a check with the matched funds payable to the participant’s title company. 

Participants are subject to a number of income, net worth, residency, and home purchase requirements. Learn more here.

Keystone Advantage Assistance Loans

These loans can be used in conjunction with other Keystone loan programs offered by the Philadelphia Housing Finance Agency. They are meant to assist with down payment and closing costs up to 4% of the purchase price or $6,000, whichever is less. The loans are paid monthly over 10 years with 0% interest. 

The program has requirements for loan amounts, credit scores, total assets, and for how the loan can be used. Learn more here

Possible Downsides of Taking Advantage of First Time Home Buyer Programs

Onerous Requirements: First time home buyer programs often have retention requirements that prevent sale of the property or a refinancing of the mortgage before a specific date if you want to avoid repayment. For instance, Philly First Home stipulates that you have to own the home purchased with the assistance of the program for fifteen years. If you sell the home or refinance your mortgage before fifteen years are up, you will likely be required to pay the grant back. 

Private Mortgage Insurance: In addition, whenever you buy a home with less than 20% down, you may be subject to paying private mortgage insurance or PMI. PMI protects your lender if you stop making payments on your loan. PMI is usually paid with a monthly premium, but sometimes are paid upfront or with some combination of upfront and monthly payments. The average annual PMI premium ranges from 0.55% to 2.25% of the original loan, and will be detailed in your Loan Estimate and Closing Disclosure forms if they apply to your loan. Know that most government-insured loans, like those from the VA and USDA, don’t include PMI, but some still do.   

TLDR? 

  • If you need a lot of assistance with down payments and closing costs, Philly First Home is your best bet. Understand that there is a substantial home retention requirement of fifteen years attached to this assistance, during which you cannot sell or refinance your home without repaying the grant. 

  • If you need only a little bit of assistance with down payments and closing costs, First Front Door will match some of your contributions. This program has a much less stringent retention requirement of five years that allows for refinancing. 

  • If you are of a very-low income bracket and need substantial assistance buying your first home, the Philadelphia Housing Authority Housing Choice Ownership Program provides long-term assistance with mortgage payments over most or all of the life of the loan. 

  • If you are looking for assistance in combination with other programs, the Habitat for Humanity Lubert IDA and the Keystone Advantage Assistance Loans can help raise or provide the cash necessary for home purchasing and the associated cost. 

Conclusion

First-time homebuyer programs can be a big help in finding and purchasing your first home, but they aren’t without downsides. Make sure that you understand the implications of any program you choose to take advantage of so that you are prepared and informed. 

Your realtor can help you take advantage of the programs most appropriate for you.

Related Article | 7 Mortgage Myths You Should Know

Related Article | First Time Home Buyer Guide

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