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Babylon will help middle-income families buy homes

Trying to jolt a lethargic housing market, the Town of Babylon announced Wednesday it will give middle-income families a $15,000 down payment match toward the purchase of their first home.

Those who earn 81 to 120 percent of the area's median income will qualify for the program. For example, a single buyer can make up to $81,550 and a family of four up to $116,500, Supervisor Steve Bellone said. The home must be purchased within the town, and while the program is open to all of Long Island, priority will be given to those who are already town residents.

"We're not going to get out of this (economic) crisis without stabilizing and fixing the part that was the source of this crisis and that is our real estate market," he said. "(This program) is intended for us to do our part in helping to stabilize our housing market here and hopefully help move it into a positive direction."

The $15,000 payments will come from a revolving fund that uses money from the town's affordable housing trust fund. Developers who do not set aside 20 percent of their units for affordable housing pay into this fund. The town initially will use $1.05 million to assist 70 families, Bellone said.

The money must be repaid, he said, when the home is either sold or refinanced. Home buyers must also take part in a one-time mortgage counseling session with the Long Island Housing Partnership so they understand home ownership.

"This is not a handout, this is a help-out," Bellone said. "People will not be put into homes if they're not able to sustain those homes."

Purchased homes must undergo an energy audit as part of the town's Green Long Island Homes program, which updates homes' energy efficiency.

Peter Elkowitz, president of the Long Island Housing Partnership, called the program unique because most HUD-funded programs only provide housing assistance to families who earn 80 percent or less of the area's median income. Under such guidelines, a family of four could not exceed an income of $77,700. Elkowitz said several families who came in to his office in recent months did not meet the HUD income guidelines but would meet Babylon's new guidelines.

"This is the first down payment assistance program that goes that high," he said of the town's cap of 120 percent of median income. "That's a real number for a family of four."

Phil Weiden of the Long Island Board of Realtors said there are 1,336 homes for sale in the town and the median selling price is $359,000. He said he hopes Babylon's program paves the path "for other towns across Long Island to come up with their own version of what they can do."

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