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N.J. should help even more families become first-time homebuyers | Opinion

Senator Troy Singleton and Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly | April 27, 2021 | Star-Ledger |


Homeownership has always been a symbol of financial accomplishment in our country. Oftentimes it has marked a rite of passage into “finally becoming a grown-up” when that purchase is made. Unfortunately for many, the American dream of homeownership is becoming more difficult to attain. It is especially hard for those just starting out on their own due to the challenges involved in saving up for the down payment.

Despite all of the positive aspects and advantages of homeownership, affordability for first-time homeowners continues to be a significant barrier for far too many New Jersey residents. While our collective legislative efforts have focused on a myriad of important housing-related issues — ensuring fair access to housing, addressing homelessness, preventing foreclosures and evictions, and supporting first-time homebuyers — we firmly believe that we must continue to give New Jersey’s families access to equity building opportunities, and it must be a statewide priority.

New Jerseyans face an evolving housing market that presents significant challenges but also represents unprecedented opportunities to build generational wealth in underserved communities. Across the nation, foreclosure filings sit quietly until the federal moratorium expires. When they proceed, the results will impact communities nationwide.

Last year, a Wall Street Journal op-ed described investors across the country as “preparing for what they believe could be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to buy distressed real-estate assets at bargain prices.” Helping families compete in this environment is imperative to the long-term economic stability for New Jersey families and their neighborhoods.

As federal programs seek to shore up existing distressed mortgages to stabilize housing markets, the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency’s down payment assistance program (“DPA”) is a vital resource to help properties become homes for New Jersey residents who need them the most.

The DPA program makes housing affordable by offsetting $10,000 in down payment and closing costs for eligible first-time homebuyers. Eight out of every 10 beneficiary families earn less than 80% of the state’s median household income, with 5 out of every 10 families earning less than $62,000. The remaining 20% are at an income level equivalent to a household with two working parents, such as a nurse and teacher or sanitation worker, which reflects the fact that nearly half of all the participants benefiting from the DPA program in 2020 were essential workers.

Increasing access to homeownership is an important tool for neighborhood stabilization and revitalization. New Jersey families want to invest in the neighborhoods they call home. More than two-thirds of all families benefiting from this program move less than a short drive from their prior addresses, while 10% buy homes in the same census tract that they previously lived in. When families become homeowners, they put down roots, encourage private investment and upkeep of the housing stock, and pre-empt the displacement of rental housing that occurs if a neighborhood begins to gentrify.

Last year reminded us all how important home really is. That is why we should not only continue to fund this opportunity for New Jersey residents but expand it so even more families can benefit. Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed budget increases the number of families who benefit by 50% and makes it possible to reduce their interest rates.

While it may not be possible to instantly normalize the housing market post-COVID-19, DPA is one important way we can level the playing field for hard-working New Jerseyans, giving first-time homebuyers their chance to achieve the American Dream.

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