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Hurricane Michael Recovery Loans Help Panhandle Homebuyers

workers rebuilding a house
Valerie Crowder
WFSU Public Media
Contractors replace a roof on a Panama City resident's home almost one year after Hurricane Michael devastated the region.

Mortgage down payment assistance loans are helping put people back in neighborhoods recovering from Hurricane Michael.

“As a native Floridian, I don’t know that there’s ever been or ever going to be a better time to buy a house in North Florida than right now,” said Trey Price, executive director of the Florida Finance Housing Corporation, the organization overseeing the Hurricane Michael Recovery Loan Program. “It’s really an incredible program we’ve got right now.”

The interest-free loans cover $15,000 for a down payment on a house. After five years, the loans are forgiven, meaning borrowers won’t owe any more money. “You’ve got to live in the house full-time,” Price said. “It’s not investment property or beach house.”

The program has been helping move people back into communities that are recovering "just in time for the census," Price said. That matters because hurricane-related population declines reflected in the census could mean less federal funding for those cities and counties. "The down payment assistance program encourages people to stay and be part of the rebuilding effort."

Roughly 500 loans have been originated to homebuyers since the program began, Price said. Within a four-month period last year, the program originated 10 times as many down payment assistance loans - 335 - as the entire year year before the hurricane. By the end of this year, the program is expected to help roughly 1,000 households.

“Folks may already live in housing that’s substandard and damaged by the storm,” Price said. “Then there may be folks who are interested in buying some North Florida real estate and participating in the rebuilding in the Panhandle.”

Within the last six weeks, almost 200 loans have been issued, and most of those were in Bay County, Price said. There are almost 500 loans still available for potential applicants interested in settling in the region.

To qualify, homebuyers must earn 140% of the county’s median household income or less. In Bay County, the household income threshold is $97,160.

Price says interested applicants should reach out to a participating lender. They can find a list of lenders on the housing finance corporation’s website.

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.