The Spence Neighbourhood Homebuyer Assistance Program (SNHAP), which provides up to $14,000 toward the purchase of a home, has been expanded beyond Spence to include homes in Winnipeg's Central Park, Centennial, West Alexander, Daniel McIntyre and St. Matthews neighbourhoods.
The program provides a forgivable loan of $12,500 towards a down payment and $1,500 for closing costs for first-time homebuyers. Recipients must live in the home for at least 10 years for the loan to be forgiven.
Benjamin Simcoe, housing coordinator at Spence Neighbourhood Association (SNA), says the program helps close a widening financial gap for families looking to buy a home.
"The point of the program is that it puts the rising cost of home ownership within reach of more families, because the increase in house prices has outstripped the increase in incomes," he said.
Only one family—a newcomer family that Simcoe says was "over the moon"—has purchased a home through the program since it was launched in the fall of 2020. Simcoe says about 20 families have been part of the application process, but the pandemic brought obstacles.
"One of the problems is that, after COVID-19 hit, the availability of housing stock contracted, so there weren't as many homes available; prices went up, so many homes were priced out of our $250,000 maximum in the program; and then for the homes at or below $250,000 there's high competition for them, so they end up getting outbid."
The SNHAP is available only for homes valued up to $250,000 and families must have a total income between $35,000 and $84,600.
Simcoe says SNA decided to expand the program to more neighbourhoods, in part, to give families more houses to choose from and a greater chance of success.
The biggest stumbling block for people in the program is not having enough income or having other financial issues that make them ineligible for a mortgage with program partner Assiniboine Credit Union (ACU). Even so, Simcoe says, the process still had value for them.
"If someone does not qualify for a mortgage then they have that relationship established with ACU, so then ACU will start working with them to get mortgage-ready...that relationship is important."
Simcoe says the process also includes an ACU home readiness workshop which teaches families the financial basics of home ownership.
Christian Cassidy, a community programs coordinator at Daniel McIntyre/St. Matthews Community Association (DMSMCA), says he is glad to see the SNHAP expanded into DMSMCA neighbourhoods. He is working with Simcoe to set up some information sessions for residents to learn about it.
"They want to take people (into the program) that are lower-income to buy houses in parts of the neighbourhood that need revitalization," Cassidy said, adding that a healthy neighbourhood needs a mix of home owners and renters.
The SNHAP is funded by Manitoba Housing for 10 home purchases. Simcoe says if the program expansion eats up all the available spots the province might do another round.
"It's certainly possible they could do it again in future, and we would hope that they would...I think it's invaluable."
Interested residents can keep an eye on SNA's Facebook page for upcoming program information sessions. They can also reach Simcoe at 204-783-5000 ext. 105 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Sean Ledwich, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leaf