Realtor.com quoted me in College Grads Can Get Home Grants—but There’s a Catch. It opens,
Recent college graduates hoping to buy a home have one more reason to toss their caps in the air these days: Programs offering home grants to new grads are popping up across the country, offering thousands of dollars in assistance that could put homeownership within reach. Talk about a nice graduation gift!
In New York, for instance, Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced a $5 million pilot program, “Graduate to Homeownership,” providing assistance to first-time buyers who’ve graduated from an accredited college or university with an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree within the past two years. That aid can take the form of low-interest-rate mortgages, or up to $15,000 in down payment assistance.
The catch? You’ll have to live upstate—in Jamestown, Geneva, Elmira, Oswego, Oneonta, Plattsburgh, Glens Falls, or Middletown—eight areas that many just-sprung college students tend to flee as soon as they have their diploma in hand.
“Upstate colleges and universities have world-class programs that produce highly skilled graduates—who then leave for opportunities elsewhere,” Cuomo admitted in a statement. “This program will incentivize recent graduates to put down roots.”
The trade-off for college grads
New York is not the only state offering this type of assistance to college grads, many of whom are saddled with significant student loan debt. According to analysis by Credible.com, nearly half of states offer some form of housing assistance to student loan borrowers, with a handful focusing on recent grads.
For instance, Rhode Island’s Ocean State Grad Grant program offers up to $7,000 in down payment assistance to those who’ve earned a degree in the past three years. Ohio’s Grants for Grads program offers down payment assistance or reduced-rate mortgages to those who have graduated in the past four years.
Still, what’s noteworthy about programs like New York’s is that you can’t just buy a home anywhere. Rather, you have to plunk yourself down in semi-ghost towns. That’s hardly ideal for someone who’s trying to kick-start a career.
So as tempting as this home-buying “help” might appear at first glance, you have to wonder: Is it enough to offset what these students give up? Some experts say it’s a risky bet.
“The New York program aims to retain highly educated people in economically depressed regions and revitalizing struggling downtowns in those regions,” says David Reiss, research director for the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School. “It can certainly help people who are dealing with high student debt burdens. But programs like this have to deal with a fundamental issue: Do these communities have enough jobs for recent college graduates? Time will tell.”
Find a job first, then a home
Experts say students should think carefully before they pounce on this “gift” and make sure they can be happy in one of the designated locations—and gainfully employed.
“No question, they should have a job lined up first [before buying a house],” says Reiss. After all, “a good deal on a house or a mortgage is not a good deal if we don’t have a job to go along with it.”