State group working to secure federal stimulus money as down payments for first-time homebuyers

— A temporary influx of state cash could mean new homes for 12,000 first-time homebuyers and billions of dollars in economic activity in Florida, a coalition of housing, consumer and builders groups said on Friday.

Part of the 2009 federal economic stimulus package, one program provides qualified buyers with up to $8,000 in federal income tax credit. The credits, however, cannot be used to make down payments; a prohibition housing advocates say may have been more by oversight than design.

In an effort to draw down federal stimulus dollars, the group says Florida lawmakers should allow the Florida Housing Finance Corp. to loan up to $8,000 to qualified first-time buyers to help them make down payments. The money would be repaid once homebuyers recoup the tax credit.

“I just don’t think they thought it through completely,’ said Walter Dartland, executive director of the Consumer Federation of the Southeast. “Otherwise they would have put that in there.”

Though any funding source would suffice, Dartland and others say state lawmakers should refrain from raiding the Housing Corp. trust fund balances to fill a $6 billion budget hole. Both budget proposals, to varying degrees, dip into agency funds that are generated in large part on documentary stamp revenue.

The Florida Association of Realtors estimates that 12,000 potential homeowners in Florida are barred from the American Dream only by their inability to come up with 10 percent upfront.

“We need to encourage Florida lawmakers to take action now – converting the tax credit into cash upfront could help thousands of first-time buyers overcome that financial barrier to homeownership, which generates an economic ripple that stimulates the state’s overall economy,” FAR president Cindy Shelton said.

The purchases would result in $4.3 billion in economic activity and more than 33,000 jobs, according to a study by the Washington Economics Group, a Miami-based research firm.

“It’s a no-cost program for the state,” Dartland said. “ Florida has the chance to become the bellwether, the national leader on this issue.” Backers say improving homeownership is a cost-effective economic development engine at a time when most Floridians put the economy’s health at the top of their lists, according a poll released Wednesday by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc.

A weekend poll indicated nearly eight of 10 Floridians think lawmakers should do what they can to improve the economy. Nearly eight in 10 polled said improving the home market was a critical component of any recovery effort.

“By an overwhelming margin, Floridians were most concerned about turning Florida’s economy around,” said Mason-Dixon’s Brad Coker. “These numbers bear that out.”

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