NEW ORLEANS. La. —At 26 years old, Collin Miller has locked in the American dream of owning a home in the city he loves, a dream he still finds hard to believe is true.
To Watch report: http://www.wdsu.com/news/local-news/new-orleans/programs-helping-new-home-buyers-move-into-the-crescent-city/33948608
"It's probably one of the most exciting things we've ever done!" said Miller. "I remember the whole process. We're going through, waiting for everything to close. We're on pins and needles the whole time thinking 'We're really going to get a house'," said Miller.
Miller's dream was all made possible through a nonprofit program called Project Home Again, which builds new homes for first-time, low-income home buyers.
"The thing they came up with was, we can provide really nice housing for residents and encourage people to come back to the city and re-grow the city, make it what it once was, make it something better," said Miller, who is happy to now be a part of that effort.
Realtor Betsy Birdsong says certain developers were selected by the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority to build dozens of those high-quality, energy-efficient homes, specifically in Gentilly and New Orleans East.
They average about $230,000 but come with stiff requirements.
"They have to be sold to first-time home buyers. They need to take a first-time home buyer training class. There are income restrictions as to who can buy property," said Birdsong.
For a family of one, the yearly income limit is $50,400. The limit for a family of four is $72,000 a year. Birdsong says it's those income restrictions shutting out many potential new buyers, and believes more money needs to be made available to help the middle class.
"My biggest concern is that first-time home buyers are going to have a difficult time buying unless there's local programs to help them fill in the gap, because we've just gotten so expensive," said Birdsong.
There is a new local program now being offered through the Finance Authority of New Orleans.
The Expand to Homeownership Grant Program offers up to 4% of the down payment.
That means, if someone was to purchase a $150,000 home, the buyer would get $6,000 toward the down payment.
Borrowers have to make the home their principal residence, and mortgages are 30-year loans.
For this program, the income requirement is higher at $84,000 a year, regardless of family size, something director Mtumishi St. Julien says opens the door for new buyers.
"So what that means is, a lot of young people who could not able to access the soft second program, now they can come in and qualify for this 4% grant to get into a home," said St. Julien.
That soft second program was actually ushered in by St. Julien after Hurricane Katrina, and served as a catalyst to revitalizing New Orleans neighborhoods by offering up to $65,000 toward a new home.
However, that money has expired, and there's no indication, it will ever come back.
St. Julien hopes that this grant can provide the same result for areas of the city that still need to grow.
"It will help people get in who don't have the restrictions," said St. Julien. "We just want to encourage people to get in and invest in our neighborhoods."
As for Collins, his advice for those looking to buy in the big easy is do your homework, speak with realtors knowledgeable about first-time home buying programs available, and don't hesitate because home prices are on the rise.
"Most people are paying $13-1400 to rent a place, and we're paying less than that for something we can own for the rest of our lives. Just go for it! Dive in!" said Collins.