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Housing Assistance for First Responders and Veterans

America owes an incalculable debt to its veterans and first responders. As partial payment of that debt, federal, state, and local governments, along with private entities, have established programs designed to help these heroes find and sustain quality housing. If you've served and are facing challenges in buying a home, here's where to look.

The Americans who serve their country in the armed forces or as first responders are universally acclaimed as heroes, but in many cases the pay doesn't match up to the acclaim. Military veterans and first responders face numerous challenges, and they deserve any help that government and private organizations can provide.

Many states and local governments have begun to recognize the importance of our veterans and emergency personnel, with the latter thrown into the limelight after over 400 rescuers died during the 9/11 terrorist attack. Federal, State, and local governments have responded with programs to provide needed assistance. In the 2016 election, Virginians overwhelmingly passed an amendment to the state's constitution which grants property tax exempt status to the widows of all first responders.[1] In 2015, the 9/11 First Responders bill, originally passed in 2010, received reauthorization and extended health benefits to 9/11 first responders and their families -- this time for life.[2]

Can current first responders expect to find meaningful help for themselves and their families? Can veterans also find any assistance to help with different needs? The answer to both of those questions is yes. There are housing assistance programs designed to provide assistance to both groups.

Housing Assistance for First Responders
First responders have access to state and federal programs for housing assistance, as well as some options from private organizations and companies.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers emergency personnel a 50% discount on the list price of a home under the Good Neighbor Next Door Sales Program, open to firefighters, law enforcement officers, pre-K-12th-grade teachers, and EMTs. Individuals must commit to living in the neighborhood and must purchase the home in "revitalization areas," of which there are 924 across the country. You can find a list of homes for sale using the HUDHomes search database.

The nonprofit Everyday Hero Housing Assistance Fund (EHHAF) provides assistance to first responders as well as teachers and social workers. This program provides grants toward the purchase of a home, as long as those families can already qualify for a loan, which can include FHA loans. As the money is a grant, there is no requirement to pay it back.

USA Home Financing provides first responders with low-cost home loans, some with down payments as low as 3%, that are available even with less than optimal credit scores (620 FICO or higher). In some cases, the program will allow you to purchase a home with 100% financing.

Many cities and states are passing tax credit opportunities for their emergency services staff. Your city or state may have such a program. Some examples of this include Pennsylvania; Nebraska (pdf); Iowa, and the city of Baltimore, MD. In most cases, the credit is not large. Increasingly more states and localities are considering adding some form of tax incentives for first responders.

Housing Assistance for Veterans
Veterans enjoy a large number of housing assistance programs. As veteran homelessness is a major issue within the U.S., a large majority of these programs, both public and private, are oriented toward alleviating homelessness. There are programs designed to help those from all walks of life, though, and homelessness is not a prerequisite for assistance.

The Veterans Affairs Department offers housing assistance programs, including housing vouchers made available through HUD as well as programs specifically targeting the homeless.

The nonprofit Veterans Inc. specifically targets homeless veterans. The organization has made ending homelessness its primary mission. The organization states that ¼ of all homeless individuals are veterans -- a staggering number. Their goal is to help fight this issue by providing housing and support services. They claim an 85% success rate.

The HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) program offers housing grants for homeless veterans. This program receives tens of millions of dollars from Congress each year and is underutilized.

The Gary Sinise Foundation provides specially modified homes for severely wounded vets and first responders, providing a wide range of programs to help both.

The Pentagon Foundation offers a Dream Makers program for veterans, designed to help military and former military families purchase homes. The program will contribute a maximum of $10,000 and a minimum of $100 toward the purchase of a home. The program operates by cash matching in a 2-to-1 ration. Grants are only awarded for toward the initial purchase of the home loan, for down payment purposes. There are also several other restrictions: refer to their website for details.

Most states and cities offer tax credits for disabled veterans. Almost every state has some form of property tax credit. You can find a complete list from Veterans United. Many tax credits are specifically designed for the disabled, but a wide range of disabilities, including PTSD, may count.

USA Cares has fast response times and supports past and current military members and their families with a range of services, including many designed to help families stay in their homes. They will also help take care of bills for those receiving PTSD treatment.

Veterans and first responders may also want to consider other housing programs that exist for low-income families. These include programs such as FHA loans, and if need be, Section 8 housing vouchers.

Those who have served their country and communities deserve both gratitude and support, and there are many public and private organizations dedicated to providing it. If you belong to one of these groups, please take the time to seek out and take advantage of this assistance. It's not a favor or a handout; it's partial payment of a debt. You deserve it, and we owe it to you.