Ohio Treasurer Unveils New Homebuyer Program in Youngstown

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A new program rolled out this week by the state is likely to help boost homeownership across the Mahoning Valley, stakeholders say.

“We’ve all seen housing prices skyrocket over the last three years. Mortgage rates have more than doubled,” Ohio Treasurer of State Robert Sprague said. “It’s made buying a house unaffordable for Americans and for a lot of people in the state of Ohio.”

Sprague visited Youngstown on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the Ohio Homebuyer Plus program, an initiative launched Monday that encourages would-be homebuyers to save toward closing costs or a down payment toward the purchase of a new house.

“It helps you grow your savings faster,” he said. “You can use it to save for a down payment or closing costs for a primary resident in the state of Ohio.”

Guy Coviello, president and CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, and Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown joined Sprague to explain the program during a press conference in the chamber’s offices.

From left are Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, Ohio Treasurer of State Robert Sprague and Guy Coviello, president and CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.

Under the program, potential homebuyers who live in Ohio are able to open a savings account with a list of participating financial institutions that have partnered with the state, Sprague said.  

As participants make deposits, they earn interest from both the financial institution and an additional 2.5% in interest that the state kicks in through its link deposit program, Sprague said. The individual contributions also qualify for a tax deduction, he said.

The account holder must be age 18 or older, have a primary residence in Ohio and must use the proceeds toward the down payment or closing costs of a primary residence, Sprague said.

The money could be used toward the purchase of an existing home or new construction, he said, which would add to the Mahoning Valley’s housing stock.

Participants in the program have five years to spend the money and must maintain a minimum balance of $100 and cannot exceed a balance of $100,000.

“It’s another added incentive for us to improve homeownership in the city of Youngstown,” Brown said. “It’s another tool in our toolbox to start making sure that individuals who want to be homeowners – here’s another opportunity to do so.”

It also helps complement housing efforts already underway in the city, such as tax incentives through the Community Reinvestment Act, façade grants and other initiatives, he said. “We’re moving in the right direction.”

However, the mayor says he often hears from residents that they love the city’s neighborhoods, but the housing inventory is slim, or that their houses – many of which are older – need improvements, but they don’t have the resources to make upgrades.

“We’re looking at an aging infrastructure, the individuals living there and how we can improve both of them,” he said.

Coviello said improved access to housing is also important in helping retain and boost the Mahoning Valley’s population.

He referenced a USA Today survey that found the Youngstown-Warren Metropolitan Statistical Area, or MSA, boasts the highest percentage of homeownership among millennials in the country.

“Seventy-four percent of millennials who live in our community own a home in our community,” Coviello said.

The state’s program also helps many of the chamber’s initiatives, including its major thrust to boost the region’s population and improve the existing housing and new construction inventory, he said.

“We took up growing the population as our No. 1 priority,” he continued. “But when we started to go down that path, we quickly realized that if we grow the population, we don’t have enough houses for people.”

Thus, building quality housing is vital to accommodating a growing population lured by the prospect of potentially new jobs and industry, he said.

“We welcome any way that we can increase the housing stock,” Coviello said.

Pictured at top: Ohio Treasurer of State Robert Sprague.

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