San Mateo County First Time Home Buyer Program Targets Middle-Income Shoppers

A Bay Area home for sale.
Photo credit Margie Shafer/KCBS Radio
SAN MATEO — It goes without saying that buying that first home in the Bay Area can be a major challenge. 

But there's a non-profit program on the Peninsula that's giving people who're struggling to save up for a down payment a helping hand.  

It's called HEART, which is short for Housing Endowment and Regional Trust of San Mateo County, and its goal is to offer home loan assistance to middle-income, first-time property buyers.

Julie Barnard works for the city of South San Francisco, and used the HEART program to buy a one bedroom condo in San Bruno. 

"I'd been living in the city for eight years with roommates. That allowed me to save some liquid to put down," Barnard said. "I don't think I would have ever fully raised the 20 percent [for a down payment> with things continuing to escalate. The HEART program for me was most attractive because there's no PMI, [private mortgage insurance> so that saves a bit of cost there."

The initiative helps buyers get around the need for PMI by providing a second loan of 15 percent of the purchase price.

"Our program is allowing someone to only need a five percent down payment," said Boris Vatkin, Management Analyst for HEART. "People just need a helping hand. And we came up with this program and it's been amazing. I think it's one of the few, if not the only five percent down payment."

The program was launched in 2008, and "to date, we've helped 87 people stay in San Mateo County. We've had zero defaults, zero late payments," said Vatkin. 

The program's maximum home price is $908,000, with a qualifying maximum income of $170,000.

San Mateo County is hosting a free home buyer workshop - open to all - to explain how the HEART program works, and provide information to first time buyers. It's on June 6th in Daly City. You can find out more and register for the workshop on the Heart website

Written by Diana Shook