Consuela Joy Turner says the Tennessee Homeowners Downpayment Assistance Program came through for her. (Photo: Montee Lopez)

“I absolutely love it.”

Heartfelt and to-the-point words from Consuela Joy Turner, a new homeowner in Memphis. Having just bought her Raleigh-Frayser home a mere three months ago, she’s still on a high — and she owes it mostly to the Homebuyers Down Payment Assistance (DPA) Program.

“I’d been looking outside of Memphis for a home, but in my heart, I really wanted to stay here, build my home, and live my life.”

Turner, who didn’t have much money to work with, asked around for help – and came across the Homeowners DPA program, run by the State of Tennessee.

“I had credit, I had money to pay the mortgage. I just didn’t have money for the down payment,” Turner said.

Here’s how it works: Qualified applicants can receive up to $15,000 in assistance, which starts off as an interest free loan.

After the sixth year, 20 percent of the loan is forgiven for each year the homeowner keeps the home. For Turner, that means she’s going to be spending at least the next 20 years in Memphis, which is a major goal of those in charge of the DPA program.

“The program is designed for folks to put down roots and willing to stay there,” Ralph Perrey, executive director of the Tennessee Housing Development Authority said.

More than 425 homeowners in Shelby County have applied for the program, receiving $6.3 million in assistance to secure home loans worth more than $45 million in struggling communities.

The U.S Treasury provided funding for the program last March. It’s only available in targeted zip codes in the state, 18 of which Shelby County houses.

“For some areas, having home owners versus renters makes the area more loving,” Turner said, saying her neighborhood is full of friendly people who’ve chosen to settle there. Many have called the neighborhood home for more than 30 years.

Data from TDHA shows in 2017, 364 homeowners received down payment assistance, with the majority of homes purchased in the 38128 (Raleigh), 38109 (Westwood) and 38118 (Parkway Village/Southeast Memphis) zip codes – all areas heavy with poverty.

“Anytime you bring the presence of an invested homeowner, that makes a lot of difference because it’s not that renters are bad people, but if you buy your home, you care about your property,” Perrey said.

Also, according to the TDHA, 64 percent of loans from the department were awarded to African-Americans in Shelby County.

“Millions of dollars have been infused into the local housing market through this program,” said Mayor Jim Strickland, who was among those pitching the program at The Works in South Memphis on Tuesday. “Those dollars are being targeted right where they’re needed most, where foreclosures were highest and new sales have been lagging.”

Strickland has been consistent in giving voice to the need to bring more people into Memphis, which means getting people into homes they want to stay in, in neighborhoods they feel comfortable in, with prices they can afford.

“To me, our number one challenge is population loss,” Strickland told The New Tri-State Defender, attributing the loss to a high crime rate and a decline in quality schools.

“I think this fits into his goals of helping people,” Strickland said, noting the housing push’s timeliness as April 4, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., looms.

“When neighborhoods empty out, blight happens, crime increases and this is one of the things we can do,” Strickland said. “This is something Dr. King would be happy with.”

To qualify, homebuyers must purchase an existing home in a qualifying ZIP Code with a Great Choice Home Loan. The loan is a THDA mortgage product aimed at Tennesseans of middle/moderate income.

Approved homebuyers receive a forgivable second mortgage loan for $15,000 that must be applied to down payment and closing costs.

Assistance is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Depending upon how many people apply, funding could run out by the fall.

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