PBC considers program to provide down-payment aid to home buyers

Feb 28, 2018
Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker during a meeting of the commission on Jan. 23, 2108. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Low-income residents in Palm Beach County could get as much as $38,500 in down-payment assistance through a new program the county is working on.

The county’s workforce housing program has required developers to set aside units that would be available at below-market prices. Developers can — and usually do — pay a fee in lieu of building that housing.

The county has collected $3 million in fees that it now wants to use to help low- to middle-income residents buy some of the below-market housing units that have been built.

Commissioners have not given their final approval to the down-payment assistance program, though several spoke in favor of it when they met on Tuesday. They are expected to vote on it when they meet in April.

County Administrator Verdenia Baker has frequently noted the scarcity of affordable housing in the county.

High home prices — the median price for a home in Palm Beach County is $255,000, according the National Association of Home Builders — has made it difficult to recruit employees from lower-cost areas, Baker said. Others who work in the county drive long distances to and from work because they can’t afford to buy a home in the county.

The down-payment assistance program, county staffers said, won’t solve those problems. But the county sees the program as another way to offer some help, and it wants residents to know about it.

“We’re ramping up the marketing of the down-payment assistance program,” said Faye Johnson, an assistant county administrator who oversees the county’s housing programs.

As outlined for commissioners on Tuesday, the program would provide a sliding scale of down-payment assistance based on a family’s income and the price of the home they are attempting to buy.

The initial goal, Johnson said, is to help families afford the 121 below-market rate housing units that are available for purchase now.

A family of four with an income between $40,740 to $54,320 could get as much as $38,500 in down-payment assistance to buy a unit priced at $142,590. Such a family would have to contribute at least 2.5 percent of the sale price toward the down payment.

As a family’s income rises and as the price of the home increases, less assistance would be offered.

A family of four making $81,480 to $95,060 could get as much as $26,481 in down-payment assistance to buy a home selling for $264,810. Such a family would have to contribute at least 3.5 percent of the sale price toward the down payment.

Typical underwriting policies regarding credit-worthiness and debt-to-income ratios would be applied.

Johnson said residents interested in the program should contact the county’s Department of Housing and Economic Sustainability.