As a single mother, Alicia Carson had found it difficult to save the money she needed for a down payment on a home. But Carson, who works at Central Christian Child Care Center, wouldn't give up.
Instead, she was one of two people last year to receive assistance at Community Ventures Corp. through a regional program that it recently joined. This year, the organization is looking to welcome more people into the "Welcome Home" program, which offers grants of as much as $5,000 for down payments on homes.
Begun in 1998, Welcome Home is a program of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati, a cooperative organization that is part of a national system that provides funding to banks and other institutions for home loans. The system was chartered by Congress, but the Federal Home Loan Banks are owned by member institutions.
The organization sets aside 10 percent of its profits for programs to help with affordable housing in Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Among those programs is Welcome Home, which provided $7 million in down-payment assistance in 2011 for 1,400 home buyers, including Carson.
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The 2012 program opens March 1. Each member institution, regardless of size, may receive as much as $200,000 to distribute. That means smaller organizations such as Community Ventures have just as much power in the program as major banks like Central Bank or Fifth Third.
"You're better off working with a small bank than a big bank since each member can use $200,000," said John Byczkowski of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati. "If you're Fifth Third, you spread it out all over the place."
Those enrolled in the program must have a contract on a home to reserve their spot. They then have until the end of the year to close on the sale.
To be eligible for the program, home buyers generally must have lower to moderate incomes as set forth by certain guidelines. The program is open to first-time and repeat buyers. Buyers must contribute at least $500 of their own money and enroll in home-buyer counseling courses if they are first-time buyers.
"It's one of the best programs I've worked with because of its simplicity," said Michael Terry, senior mortgage loan officer at Community Ventures. "Grant dollars are harder and harder to come by. "The fact that this is still a grant program makes it so easy to work with."
The program is a natural fit for Community Ventures, which has helped home buyers and small-business owners for three decades.
"We have a lot of first-time home buyers come through here for either work on their credit or to learn how the home-buying process works," Terry said. "It's a big piece of who we target.
"Now, in addition to coming here to learn about the process, we back it up with grant funds."
The education classes also have helped the program avoid some of the problems that came when homeowners defaulted during the recession.
Byczkowski said default and foreclosure rates for homeowners in the Welcome Home program were lower than national rates.
"That's because we involve a lot of community banks that make good mortgages, and the homeowners have to take education courses," he said. "We feel that those two combined have kept down the foreclosure rates in our program."
Community Ventures joined the Welcome Home program last year, but "by the time we got our membership in place, we didn't quite have the ramp-up time we needed," said Garry Throckmorton, senior executive vice president of lending for the organization. "This year, our goal is to make a much bigger splash."
Among its success stories, though, is Carson, who had been receiving Section 8 government housing assistance.
"I took the homeowner's course, and it was a great course to learn," she said. "It takes you through the whole process from how to settle your debt to how much money you need to save."
She bought a home in the Joyland neighborhood, off North Broadway near Interstate 75.
"It's such a difference from renting," she said. "It's all new to us, and we're just enjoying it.
"My daughter's so excited about her new house. We painted her room purple."