Homebuyer Program extended through 2007

The University will continue to assist Yale faculty and staff looking to buy houses this spring, but how long they can afford their new homes remains an open question.

Officials announced last week that the Homebuyer Program, which has provided more than 730 Yale employees with grants to buy homes in New Haven and surrounding areas, will be extended until the end of 2007. University officials said the decision to renew the program was not particularly contentious, but some union leaders said the program should be doing more to help workers find homes closer to campus.

The Yale Corporation — the University’s highest decision-making body — meets every two years to reevaluate the program, and approved the extension at its meeting last December, Program Director for New Haven and State Affairs Reginald Solomon said. Associate Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand said the re-approval of the program was routine, and potential homebuyers can expect no major changes to the program.

“There continues to be strong participation by people throughout the University,” Morand said. “Yale employees recognize that New Haven is a great place to live.”

But Local 35 President Bob Proto said that while the program as a whole is a step in the right direction, the extent of the grants is currently inadequate, especially given Yale’s massive financial resources and rising housing costs throughout the city.

“The Homebuyer program should be in sync with affordable homes in New Haven,” Proto said. “When the market changes, we can’t force people financially to have to exit the city. You would imagine that an employer would have serious concerns with that.”

Still, psychology professor Marc Brackett, who just closed on a house in New Haven last Friday, said he was satisfied with the program and that many of his colleagues have given favorable reviews of it. Brackett said that although the grant did not make or break his final decision on whether to buy a house in the Elm City, the benefits made settling down a more attractive choice.

“I think the program is great, and my experience was very positive,” Brackett said. “I thought it was fair, and I didn’t have any problems.”

New Haven Urban Design League President Anstress Farwell GRD ’74 said the program helps contribute to an urban fabric reminiscent of 18th century New Haven, when triple-decker housing brought together members of differing socioeconomic classes.

“It’s the kind of thing that really supports a democracy,” Farwell said. “People are literally in it together. … Teenage girls who live on a street where even 10 of the residents are professionals are less likely to become pregnant.”

The program, which was first piloted in 1994 under the direction of Yale President Richard Levin, is the largest employer-assisted home ownership program of any university in the world. It offers recipients $25,000 over 10 years, with an initial grant of $7,000 for a down payment, and has provided more than $17 million total to Yale faculty and staff. Solomon, who bought a house under the program last summer, said 800 employees are expected to have benefited from the funding by this fall.

One of the principal purposes of the initiative was to stabilize New Haven, Solomon said. At the time of the program’s inception, many New Haven citizens were selling their houses and moving to the suburbs, he said. Although the area’s real estate is now more stable than it has been in the past, Solomon said the program remains popular. The program initially covered a small portion of designated areas in New Haven, but it gradually expanded to include additional neighborhoods such as Dixwell, Dwight and the Hill.

The Yale Corporation will reevaluate the program again in December 2007.

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