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Tawnya Vernon and her husband Joel Farnsworth wanted to buy a house in Missoula, where home prices have been skyrocketing for the past few years. But like many couples, they didn’t have any money saved up for a down payment.

Their loan officer told them about HomeNow, a program that offers a grant to cover up to 5 percent of the total loan amount for a down payment and/or closing costs as long as certain conditions are met. The program is run by MoFi (formerly the Montana & Idaho Community Development Corporation) and is available to a wide variety of potential buyers.

“We had just moved a couple years ago to Missoula, so we kind of spent our savings on that,” Vernon explained. “The HomeNow program definitely helped us. We wouldn’t have had any sort of down payment. And we don’t have to pay it back.”

The couple was required to take a $50 homebuyer class online and they had to purchase a home between Russell and Reserve, but they’re extremely happy with the house they found.

MoFi, a nonprofit in Missoula that now also serves Idaho, Wyoming, eastern Washington and eastern Oregon, has expanded the HomeNow program to feature a 0 percent interest, deferred down-payment loan that means buyers have lower monthly payments and only repay it when they sell their home or pay off the mortgage. The HomeNow program also is expanding to include a dedicated set of funds to help buyers purchase double-wide manufactured homes, which are often the only affordable option for low-income buyers.

The housing crunch in Missoula, where home prices have risen nearly 30 percent since 2010 while wages have stagnated, has prompted Missoula Mayor John Engen to open a dedicated Office of Housing and Community Development.

"For many of the folks we serve, paying a mortgage is simple and doable,” Engen said. But "putting together a down payment to get that mortgage is a barrier that’s tough to overcome. The HomeNow program goes a long way in removing that barrier. The more people who know about the program and its benefits, the more will be homeowners.”

The grant and deferred loan programs are intended to assist low, moderate and middle-income borrowers who have steady income and qualify for a mortgage. The assistance can be combined with a variety of 30-year mortgage options, including both conventional and government programs. Both are available anywhere in the state of Montana and are not limited to first-time home buyers.

Dave Glaser, president of MoFi, said the programs require little additional paperwork and offer competitive interest rates.

“With these additions, HomeNow becomes the most widely accessible down payment assistance program to hit the streets in Montana, ever,” he said. “Clients can now choose between a non-repayable grant that offers immediate equity in the home, or they can choose the new 0 percent deferred loan program, which has lower interest rates and therefore a lower monthly payment.

"There are specific benefits to both options, but the end result is the same — buyers get an affordable mortgage and we provide the boost they need to overcome the down payment hurdle.”

Buyers can receive up to 5 percent of the total loan amount, which can cover both down payment and closing costs. For example, the buyer of a $200,000 home who needs to cover a 3 percent down payment and closing costs can receive $9,700 of assistance.

Since 2017, MoFi has provided grants to over 100 homebuyers in Montana.

“We understand the urgency of the housing affordability challenge in Montana, and we wanted to come at this program with every solution we could find,” Glaser said. “Over the last 18 months, we have had hundreds of conversations with loan officers, realtors, city housing officials, and prospective homebuyers to better understand the challenges they face, and how we can help. The new suite of products grew out of those conversations.”

Homebuyers do not have to apply separately for either HomeNow program because a participating lender will coordinate it for them. Missoula lenders include First Interstate Bank, Guaranteed Rate, Guild Mortgage, Mann Mortgage, Opportunity Bank of Montana and Rocky Mountain Bank. Homebuyers don’t have to be first-time buyers to qualify, but they must plan to live in the home and have adequate income to pay the mortgage.

To find out more about MoFi and HomeNow down payment assistance, including a complete list of participating lenders in Missoula, visit http://mofi.org/.

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