Story at a glance
- The Homes for Every Local Protector, Educator, and Responder (HELPER) Act aims to improve housing affordability for first responders and educators while at the same time encouraging new recruits and retaining workers.
- Although nearly 90 lawmakers across the aisle have expressed support for the Act, some question where the line should be drawn when it comes to aid for public sector employees.
- If enacted, certain law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMS workers and K-12 educators would become eligible for elimination of down payment requirements on homes, with 100 percent upfront financing on a one-time basis.
Rising housing costs have posed a challenge for many community workers struggling to keep up with the market. But a bipartisan bill, the Homes for Every Local Protector, Educator, and Responder (HELPER) Act, aims to address this hurdle for teachers and first responders.
If passed, the Act would make these workers eligible for the elimination of down payment requirements on homes, with 100 percent upfront financing on a one-time basis. More affordable mortgage financing would be available for eligible law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMS workers and K-12 educators.
The HELPER Act is co-authored by Sens. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and is co-sponsored by nearly 90 lawmakers across both parties. It is similar to home loan benefits offered by Veterans Affairs.
Recent reports have documented the double toll of high housing costs and low salaries on teachers, particularly those in states like California. One district went so far as to ask parents to rent out spare rooms to teachers struggling to afford housing.
An additional report from July 2021 found more than half of police officers reported high housing costs are an obstacle to hiring, while 68 percent said the problem makes it more difficult to recruit new officers.
The HELPER programs introduced would fall under the Federal Housing Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), while no geographic restrictions would apply to eligible workers.
These individuals would also be granted a one-time-use home loan at a 3.6 percent premium fee to the federal government with no down payment. Money collected from the fee would go into an insurance fund that would be tapped into should a loan recipient experience foreclosure.
Under the current Good Neighbor Next Door HUD program, individuals in the four groups identified can purchase homes that have been foreclosed on at a cheaper price. However, not enough homes are going into foreclosure to meet this demand, prompting introduction of the HELPER Act.
The Act has garnered support from numerous groups including the Association of American Educators, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, Fraternal Order of Police, and the International Association of Firefighters, among others.
“We’ve got people in some cases living two counties away from the communities they serve because of the cost of housing,” Rubio said in a statement.
“This [act] will hopefully make it more feasible for people serving us in classrooms, out in the streets, both keeping us safe and responding to emergencies, make it more affordable for them to be able to acquire a home for their families.”
“This is a great bill to help first responders, including teachers, actually be able to purchase a home,” added Representative John Rutherford (R-Fla). “Making it economically feasible for them to be able to purchase their homes by a no down payment program with no mortgage insurance payment.”
Along with providing financial assistance for home purchasers, the Act also aims to improve recruitment and retainment of first responders and educators, two sectors that are experiencing a worker shortage.
The act was introduced in the House of Representatives in May 2021 and in the Senate in October 2021 but has yet to reach committee or the House and Senate floors.
Some have questioned where the line should be drawn with regard to the federal government subsidizing mortgages for certain public sector employees and whether similar aid will be offered to nurses or public defenders, for example.
“Passing the HELPER Act would allow an affordable option to those that serve tirelessly in our communities,” said Sam Royer, National Director of Heroes First Home Loans, Marine veteran and architect of the bill in a statement to Changing America.
“This legislation is far from a subsidy or handout; the program would be low risk for the federal government, as loss only occurs if the homebuyer defaults into foreclosure. Because first responders and teachers are dedicated public servants employed in stable, often career-lasting jobs, the odds of this happening are minimal.”
Editor’s note: This article was updated on September 16 to include comments from Sam Royer.