Brad Wilson, a broker with Jones Hollow Realty Group, speaks...

Brad Wilson, a broker with Jones Hollow Realty Group, speaks during a news conference at Bay Shore Brightwaters Rescue Ambulance in Bay Shore on Monday. Credit: Barry Sloan

Members of Long Island volunteer fire departments and ambulance services, which have been struggling to attract new members, can receive up to $50,000 toward the purchase and rehabilitation of a new home, officials said Monday.

The state-funded Employer Assisted Housing Program, which has been administered by the Long Island Housing Partnership for the past two decades, has been expanded to help first responder volunteers, said Suffolk County Legis. Steve Flotteron (R-Brightwaters).

"It's getting harder and harder to recruit and to retain our volunteers because of the expense of living here on Long Island,'' Flotteron said during a news conference Monday at the Bay Shore Brightwaters Rescue Ambulance, where he urged volunteer firefighters, EMTs and ambulance corps members to participate in the expanded program.

Flotteron said he recently discovered that the program, which provides up to $26,000 in down payment assistance for the purchase of a home, along with $24,000 for property improvements, was available to volunteer first responders. 

But a "stumbling block," Flotteron said, was that the program requires a $3,000 payment from the grant recipient, along with a $3,000 matching grant from the receiver’s employer — a challenge for volunteer corps already facing financial struggles.

After an inquiry by Flotteron in search of a solution, Long Island Homes for Heroes Corp., a newly established nonprofit, now will provide the $3,000 matching employer grant for each volunteer member who opts into the program.

"The ability to help our local volunteer first responders live that American dream and buy a house is fantastic," said Brad Wilson, owner of Jones Hollow Realty, who is leading the fundraising program for Homes for Heroes.

With real estate prices soaring, mortgage rates are among the highest they have been in two decades, adding hundreds, and potentially thousands of dollars, in interest payments to buyers’ monthly payments.

And even after taking ownership of their new home, many must still make expensive repairs to make the property livable, experts said.

"They don't have the capital to do certain repairs that are needed for safety and maintenance since they just bought a home," said James Britz, executive vice president of the Long Island Housing Partnership. "So this program assists with that as well."

Peter Klopsis, president of the board of directors at the Bay Shore Brightwaters Rescue Ambulance, said the expanded program will go a long way toward maintaining and growing the ranks of volunteer rescue corps.

"This program is desperately needed," said Klopsis, a volunteer at Bay Shore Brightwaters for nearly five decades. "It's getting more difficult to  ... be able to volunteer your time, as well as purchase a house and live in the local neighborhood. So we're very excited about the program. We have people that are interested right now."

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