Grants key for first-time homebuyers

Several dozen prospective homebuyers camped outside of Jefferson Parish’s Joseph S. Yenni Building on Monday night, eager to secure a grant that for many of them is their best shot at realizing their dream of owning a home.

Jefferson Parish’s Community Development Department is set to begin the approval process for its final grants under the First-Time Homebuyer’s Assistance Program on Tuesday. The program provides eligible homebuyers with as much as $60,000 towards closing costs and a down payment on their new home, said Anatola Thompson, the community development director.

The parish is planning to hand out about $3.8 million in grants under this final disbursement, and in total has allocated $9.6 million for the program, she said. The funding comes from disaster assistance grants Jefferson Parish received, and roughly 150 to 200 residents will receive the help.

Thompson estimated that about 52 residents would receive preliminary approval on Tuesday, with another 10 residents serving as alternates in case the initial candidates fail to fully meet the program’s guidelines.

Natalia Soto of Gretna was the first person in line on Monday, and she said she actually arrived at the Yenni building around noon to begin waiting after her sister staked out a spot a few hours earlier.

She said she had a feeling a line would develop, and the next person to join her in line showed up an hour after she arrived. Although camping out isn’t the best way to spend a January night, Soto said, it was the only way to ensure she got a grant.

“It’s a first-come, first-served basis and I wanted to be in that group,” she said.

Soto said she already has a home picked out in Marrero where she’d like to live.

She said she’s been preparing to get her first home for roughly three years, and when she heard about Jefferson Parish’s program is was a no-brainer to try and participate.

“This is like the last chance for me to get a home at a low rate,” Soto said from her perch on a comfortable blue chair swaddled in blankets. “It’s like $60,000 I’m getting for free.”

The parish’s program is based on an income level and family size. Residents must make less than 120 percent of the median area income based on their family size.

Thompson said that after applicants receive the initial approval, the parish will verify their income with their employer. Applicants must show the parish they’ve already signed a purchase agreement on a home, and provide bank statements and tax returns to qualify.

Valerie Hernandez, of Harahan, said she’d checked her packet twice on Monday, and was planning to show up at the Yenni building some time early Tuesday morning. But, she got a little anxious at work on Monday, and decided to drive by the building to see if a line had formed.

When she realized people were already camping out, she hopped out of her car and secured a spot. Her family, friends and realtor brought her the essentials like chairs and blankets, she said.

Hernandez said she would like to move to Metairie, and said that without the grant she wouldn’t be able to afford a home.

She said her rent is constantly rising, and now seems like the perfect time to buy a home with historically low interest rates nationwide.

Herenandez, who started attending the mandatory home buying courses in July, said she saw camping out on the line as the only way to achieve her dream.

“This is the only way I can afford to buy a home,” Hernandez said. “I’ve worked too hard to let it slip through my fingers.”

Thompson said that although the program has typically had heavy interest, they’ve never had people waiting in line overnight for the grants. She attributed Monday’s lines to the fact that this may be the last grants available for some time.

“Right now there is no funding allocated for this program,” Thompson said.

Marcy Moses was roughly No. 42 in line, and she said she was peeved that the only way the parish could think to hand out the grants was to force people to wait overnight in the cold.

Moses was turning in an application for her son, Kyle Sellos, who is a reservist in the United States Coast Guard. She said she was disappointed in Parish President John Young and the Jefferson Parish Council for not foreseeing the problem with handing out the money on a first-come, first-served basis.

“I was hoping there would be a more intelligent way to do this,” she huffed.

Moses first came to the office at about 9 a.m., and then came back around 5 p.m. because she had a feeling a line would form. When asked why she would wait in the dark with strangers when it wasn’t even for her own home, she said it was all in a day’s work for a mother.

“The mom’s got to do what the mom’s got to do,” Moses said.