The University announced last week that it has renewed and expanded its popular Homebuyer Program, an initiative that has helped hundreds of University employees purchase homes in the Elm City for over a decade.

The program, which was conceived and launched by University President Richard Levin in one of his first acts in office, will now offer $30,000 to Yale employees who purchase homes around New Haven, an increase of 20 percent over the level of funding in the existing program. The initiative — which the Yale Corporation voted last month to extend for another two years, through 2009 — is the largest and most generous employer-assisted homeownership initiative offered by any American university.

Participating employees receive a $5,000 incentive payment when purchasing a new home, along with an annual stipend of $2,500 for up to 10 years.

“I have lived in New Haven for more than 30 years, owning a home and raising my family,” Levin said in announcing the program’s expansion last week. “The creation of the Homebuyer Program was one of the first things I did as president to signal Yale’s long-term commitment to our hometown. I am delighted that so many hundreds of faculty and staff colleagues have joined me as New Haven homeowners and have benefited from the financial support this program provides.”

The University has spent over $21 million to fund the program during its 14-year run, Yale officials said.

Over that time, it has helped to defray the cost of more than $130 million in residential purchases in the city by Yale employees. The program’s popularity spurred similar initiatives at Yale-New Haven Hospital and the Hospital of Saint Raphael, two of the city’s other largest employers, in recent years.

More than 835 employees have participated in the program as of the end of last year. More than four in five were first-time homeowners, Yale officials said, and nearly half were members of minority groups.

Employees are eligible for the program if they purchase homes in Dixwell, Dwight, Fair Haven, the Hill, Newhallville, West Rock, Beaver Hills, Wooster Square and a portion of East Rock. Two years ago, when the program was last renewed, West Rock and Fair Haven became included in the initiative for the first time.