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State officials announce homebuyer assistance

Published: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 10:45 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 10:47 p.m. CDT

CHICAGO – Illinois will offer more help to first-time homebuyers under a program announced Tuesday by Gov. Pat Quinn.

However, the effort – which Quinn's administration billed as "new" and "major" – came under criticism from Republicans who claimed the Chicago Democrat was simply rehashing an old idea as Illinois faces other major financial hurdles along with his proposal to make the 2011 income tax increase permanent.

The program, which offers homebuyers $7,500 for down payments and low fixed-rate mortgages, comes a week after Quinn proposed a $500 refund for all Illinois property taxpayers in a budget that also called for extending the income tax increase, which is set to roll back in January.

The "Welcome Home Illinois" initiative builds on existing assistance, though it offers a better interest rate and more down payment help than was previously available, according to Illinois Housing Development Authority spokeswoman Cami Freeman.

She estimated about 3,000 people will take advantage of the program.

"It's very difficult for buyers to find down payment assistance," she said. "That's a huge hurdle for first-time homebuyers."

Illinois has offered similar programs for years – including help for veterans – prompting some Republicans to call it an old idea. Quinn is seeking a second full term in November. His Republican gubernatorial challenger, businessman Bruce Rauner, criticized the plan through a spokesman.

"Promoting home ownership is a worthy goal, but repackaging a decade-old idea can't overcome the fact that with fewer jobs, lower incomes and higher taxes under Pat Quinn, home ownership will remain out of reach for too many Illinoisan," Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf said in a statement.

Quinn said that the program, first reported by a Chicago Sun-Times columnist Sunday, helps "everyday people."

"Homeownership and home-buying are essential to our economy," he said in a statement. "That's why we are rolling out the welcome mat for families and hardworking men and women by giving them the resources they need to pack up and move into a new home."

The down payment money – about $30 million – comes from capital funds set aside for affordable housing and the Illinois Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which is funded by the state real estate transfer fee. The mortgage program is funded by IHDA, which generates revenue from bond proceeds.

Applicants need to meet a credit score requirement and not owned a home in the last three years. The down payment is in the form of a second mortgage. The loan is forgiven if the homebuyer stays in the home for five years.

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Follow Sophia Tareen at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen.

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