Philadelphia revives program to help employers encourage homeownership

July 18, 2011

West is the best - at least, that's what Mayor Nutter says.

Nutter was one of many West Philadelphia natives at Drexel University on Monday to announce the rebirth of the city's Home Buy Now program. ("If you lived in West Philly, you'd be home by now," Nutter quipped, explaining the pun.)

The program, cut by the city during the uncertainty of the 2009 state budget debacle, will use $735,000 of public funds to match grants from employers to help their employees buy homes in the city.

Through the program, the city will match up to $2,000 of a participating employer's grant to help an employee buy a home in Philadelphia. The city will match up to $4,000, however, in one of four target areas.

The neighborhoods around Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania are two of the target areas because the schools are anchor institutions, offering the most aid.

The other two areas will be determined around the end of the summer, when the other two anchor institutions are selected, said Don Kelly, a director of the Urban Affairs Coalition, the nonprofit that designed the program and administers its grants.

Along with Penn, Temple and St. Joseph's Universities were participants when the program operated from 2004 through 2009, but the program did not recruit anchor institutions or focus its efforts on certain neighborhoods. The three schools did stipulate that their grants, however, required employees to live in their neighborhoods.

Kelly said he expected Temple to bid to be an anchor institution this time, as the top candidates will likely be universities and hospitals.

Including Drexel and Penn, 14 employers are participating, including Martin Banks, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, and Chick's Cafe & Wine Bar.

The city funds are an investment with a high return, Nutter said, as the city will profit from tax revenue collected on the anticipated $29 million worth of property to be bought under the program.

In all, the city says it expects 240 Philadelphians will buy new homes under the program. When the program operated between 2004 and 2009, most of the 220 recipients had middle or low incomes. The Urban Affairs Coalition did not keep data on how many of its past recipients still own their homes, nor where those homes are.

The first home in the revived program will be bought by Kalatu Davies, a Drexel doctor who moved to Philadelphia from Houston.

"The aim is to build a community that encourages home ownership and entrepreneurship," she said.

Davies received $15,000 from Drexel, the school's maximum contribution. To match, the city gave its maximum grant of $4,000.

The grant is technically a loan, which is forgiven in 20 percent increments over five years of employment.

With the money, Davies is ready to start home shopping in West Philadelphia.

"Now," she said, "is the fun part."

Drew Singer