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Grants help military families buy homes

Housing dream makers

Dream Makers helps servicemembers and veterans of all branches purchase their first home. Courtesy of Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation Facebook

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"Many families struggle to buy their first home, but for military families it can be even harder," stated Christopher Flynn, president and CEO of the Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation (PenFed Foundation), in a public release. "From frequent moves around the country and overseas to trouble saving money for a down payment, members of our armed services often have to postpone this important milestone. Our Dream Makers program helps bridge that gap."

The PenFed Foundation is a nonprofit organization that strives to help servicemembers and their families meet their financial needs and goals. One initiative that has made a noticeable impact is that Dream Makers grant program, which helps first-time military homebuyers purchase a home with the assistance of grants.

"These grants mean that veterans can have instant equity and this money can make the process less onerous," said Kate Kohler, Chief Operating Officer for the PenFed Foundation.

Some of the first programs through the PenFed Foundation, which was founded in 2001, were focused on home affordability for veterans and those eventually led to the development of Dream Makers in 2010.

In its first year, the program gave 47 veterans grants to be used for a home purchase. This past year, they far exceeded previous records and helped more than 200 military families, in 39 states, become homeowners when the foundation issued $1 million in grants.

A key requirement for the grants, which can be used towards closing costs or a down payment, is that the servicemember or veteran contributes a pairing amount, typically $1 for every $3 being provided through the grant. $500 is the minimum amount for that pairing contribution and the Dream Makers grants will match that up to a maximum of $5,000.

"These are matching grants and it is a real partnership between PenFed and the veteran and their family," said Kohler, who has been with the foundation for close to five years and served in the Army herself before that.

"Owning a home helps to create equity and build good credit, which are both very important. But it can also create a sense of permanence, which can be a real asset for military families," she explained. "Especially as the military is becoming a little more stable for families who want to stay in one place for awhile."

To qualify for a Dream Makers grant, individuals must be in the military, whether on active-duty, in the Reserves or National Guard, be a veteran or be a Department of Defense employee; either be a first-time homebuyer or not have owned a home in the last three years; and have a gross annual income of no more than $55,000 or 80 percent of the area's median income (adjusted for family size), which is calculated by zip code.

While the potential grant recipient can bank through and obtain the mortgage through any institution - including a VA loan - but they must attend an approved first-time homebuyer's course by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and still contribute the pairing amount.

"We want to exponentially grow the program - there's no existing limit or cap on the Dream Makers program," Kohler stated. "Applications are available and being accepted right now, throughout the year."

To learn more about the Dream Makers program, view all of the eligibility requirements and to apply online, visit www.penfedfoundation.org/dream_index

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