Homebuyer program turns 20

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Photo by Lorenzo Ligato.

20 years after former University President Richard Levin started the Homebuyer Program — one of his most widely acclaimed town-gown initiatives — the University pledged to continue subsidizing homeownership in New Haven for Yale employees for at least another two years.

The Yale Corporation evaluates the program biennially and decided to renew the program for another two years during its meeting last December. As of this January, the program had helped over 1,000 employees purchase homes in New Haven, over 70 percent of whom are first-time homeowners. Faculty members and full-time staff members are eligible for the program, which provides a total of $30,000 over 10 years to those who purchase homes in designated areas surrounding campus, including Dixwell, Beaver Hills and Fair Haven.

Levin initiated the Yale Homebuyer Program in 1994 to encourage investment in the city and to improve what was then a strained town-gown relationship. As the largest employer-assisted home ownership program of any American university, the program has committed $26.8 million to over 1,000 employees who chose to live in New Haven over the past 20 years.

“The Homebuyer Program has been one of the ways in which Yale helps maintain the positive momentum for the city and its residents,” said University spokesperson Mike Morand ’87 DIV ’93.

He added that the program makes the city more attractive to other potential investors. When Levin started the program, New Haven was suffering from a lack of investment and a weak housing market that followed the recession of the 1980s. Many properties were vacant, the population was declining, and what is now a thriving retail district was barren. The Homebuyer Program was among several initiatives — such as establishing University Properties in 1996 and creating the President’s Public Service Fellowship in 1994 — to invest in a struggling city.

Former Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said Yale’s investments have contributed to New Haven’s recent growth. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, New Haven has had the largest population growth of any New England city between 2000 and 2010.

But because New Haven has changed so much in 20 years, the University must reconsider how to best invest in the city, he explained.

“The real question is, ‘Is [Homebuyers] the best investment today, as it was 20 years ago?’” DeStefano said. “In some ways, it was designed to solve problems that don’t exist anymore.”

Although DeStefano did not suggest terminating the Homebuyer Program, he suggested two ways the University could positively impact the city: investing in entrepreneurship and working to reduce violence in the city.

Morand said that while the University will continue to look for other possible town-gown partnerships, the Homebuyer Program will likely remain intact as long as it attracts employees who may otherwise not purchase a home in New Haven.

Four program participants interviewed said they may not have purchased a home in New Haven without the University subsidy.

“It definitely made moving to New Haven look a lot more attractive,” said Assistant Director of the Yale World Fellow Program Daniel Juárez MUS ’02. Juárez purchased a home in Beaver Hill in August 2012.

While Juárez said he likes the convenience of living five minutes away from his office, he noted that the city’s high property taxes and inequitable school system are downsides of living in the city itself rather than the surrounding suburbs. When Juárez and his family first moved from North Branford to New Haven, Juárez’s six-year-old son was placed in an “overflow” public school. Juárez was dissatisfied with the school environment and said he even considered moving out of New Haven until he found a school his son could transfer to.

Stuart DeCew SOM ’11, program director at the Yale Center for Business and the Environment, purchased a home in East Rock in August 2012. He said there are always trade-offs to consider when purchasing a house. For DeCew, the benefits of living in a walkable urban city outweighed the costs of paying higher property taxes and having a smaller backyard.

“For me, it fits with my values and with my lifestyle to live in New Haven,” DeCew said. “I believe in walking rather than driving, so I love having a grocery store just half a block away.”

One third of the people who work at Yale live within New Haven’s city limits.

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