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Buying a home is aim of program

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First-time homebuyers in Hawaii could receive $3 or $4 for every dollar they save toward a down payment as part of a new proj­ect to encourage homeownership.

A $3.1 million federal grant will help fund the proj­ect, which is open to low- and moderate-income individuals and families in Hawaii. The nonprofit Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement received the grant last month from the U.S. Treasury Department.

The grant allows the organization to broaden the scope and serv­ices of a homeownership assistance program it launched in 2004 for the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. The new three-year pilot Hawaii Family Finance Proj­ect is available to all Hawaii residents meeting financial qualifications.

Services under the program include matching funds for qualified residents saving for a down payment or trying to reduce debt.

"We’re going to be doing some groundbreaking work," said Lehua Rosa, proj­ect coordinator. "We want people to be long-term successful homeowners."

Rosa said people could receive $3 or $4 for every dollar saved for a down payment or debt reduction. Overall, $600,000 is earmarked for this piece of the program.

The project also dedicates $150,000 to offset closing costs and $150,000 to improve credit report scores.

Other services include free financial education training, one-on-one counseling on household budgeting strategies and free tax-preparation work that includes applying for available tax credits.

Eligible individuals and families may not own a home, and may not earn more than 80 percent of the annual median income for the county in which they reside, which for Hono­lulu would be a maximum $79,450 for a family of four. However, families with higher incomes may also qualify if they have net assets valued at less than $120,300.

Project organizers estimate that more than 1,000 residents will be enrolled and served through the life of the proj­ect.

Assisting the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement with the Hawaii Family Finance Proj­ect are the Hawaii HomeOwnership Center, Hawaiian Community Assets, the Hawaii Credit Union League, six credit unions and banks including First Hawaiian Bank, which contributed $30,000 toward the proj­ect.

For more information, contact Hawaii HomeOwnership Center or Hawaiian Community Assets.

Hawaii HomeOwnership Center can be reached at 523-9500, toll-free from the neighbor islands at 877-523-9503 or hihomeowner­ online. Hawaiian Community Assets can be reached at 587-7886, toll-free at 866-400-1116 or online.

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