ATLANTIC CITY — Just before the start of 2015, Atlantic County natives William and Melanie Mancuso got married and wanted to settle down in the city.
William and Melanie, now 29 and 27, weighed their options but were unsure where to go or how to pay for a house.
“It’s very stressful applying for a mortgage when you’re young, when you’re a first-time homebuyer,” Melanie Mancuso said.
But about three months after tying the knot, they moved into their new home in Chelsea Heights, thanks to the Atlantic City First-Time Homebuyer Program. The Mancuso family made their dream a reality, the couple said.
“It all worked out for us,” Melanie said.
The program has helped purchase 57 homes for families and residents of the city since 2009, offering financial help on down payments and closing costs, said Donna Harris, assistant director of redevelopment in the city’s Community and Economic Development Division.
It offers income-eligible city residents zero-interest, forgivable loans toward the purchase of a new home through the city Community Development Block Grant office, Harris said.
Using funds from the federal HOME Investment Partnership Program, families who have not owned a home in three or more years and have an income at or below 80 percent of the median income — which would have been about $44,000 for the couple — can receive help, Harris said.
The program helped city residents purchase 13 homes in 2009, but hasn’t reached that number since. However, there have been six applications in the past month, Harris said.
“That’s unusual,” Harris said. “The market prices are right, and people are confident in buying.”
Richard Perniciaro, director of the Center for Regional and Business Research at Atlantic Cape Community College, said an increase in applications for the program could indicate people are more optimistic about the economy.
He noted such a program would help offset some initial hurdles in buying a home.
“The upfront costs are usually the biggest obstacle,” he said.
Rents are high in the area, he said, which is likely making more people look into more permanent options such as buying a home if they’re ready to commit to one area.
For William Mancuso, a teacher at Atlantic City High School, and his wife, who works at Dock’s Oyster House, they needed the assistance to find a home that suited them, they said.
“It’s just so hard to put that bulk of the down payment in,” William Mancuso said, especially for millennials. “If it wasn’t for the loan, I would have never bought in Atlantic City.”
Within the program guidelines, if the home is valued at less than $100,000, the applicant can receive $10,000 toward it, and $20,000 if the property is more than $100,000. The Mancusos received $20,000 toward their home on Annapolis Avenue in 2015.
And the program forgives $2,000 for each year the applicant is in the home. If the applicant receives $20,000 in assistance, the loan is forgivable if they remain in the home for 10 years. If they received $10,000, the loan is forgivable if they remain in the home for five years, according to program guidelines.
This helps to keep some stability in the city, Perniciaro said.
“I’m just happy when you see the look on people’s faces, and giving the check,” Harris said. “These people are very deserving. They work hard.”
Mayor Don Guardian followed up on previous years’ purchases this month, meeting with families who had utilized the program, including the Mancusos.
“It’s great to see,” Guardian said, adding that it’s a municipality’s dream to allow people to find affordable housing in the city.
With the assistance for the down payment, the couple could allocate more money into renovating their home. They redid the floors and cabinets, including the bathroom and decorations.
And now the couple is expanding — they’re expecting a baby in October.
“It’s worth it,” Melanie said during the meeting with Guardian. “I knew there was no way of getting him out of the city.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” William Mancuso said.