Deals with the Devil or the DistrictComparatively the District of Columbia is far more willing to help put people in a home more than Maryland or the commonwealth of Virginie. That was my experience, and if you know (not think, know, as in you can point to a program) of a program or a set of programs in those states that out do DC then tell me.
I call the District's programs 'deals with the devil' because there are strings. Strings that you are willing to tie yourself with to get into a home but 5-6 years down the road you find are annoying. Regardless of my annoyance with them, I'm happy that they are around.
When I first came to the District with my sights on buying something I joined a program run by the North Capitol Somethingoranother (I don't remember their name but they were on North Capitol) and they held classes everyso often in the basement of the Waltha T. Daniels library. There are several programs in the city, run by non-profits including Manna, to teach people about buying, and most important, keeping a house. Through the program I got a councilor who found me my real estate agent, put me in touch with a mortgage guy (who was used to 1st time homebuyers) and was there for me when the whole process got frightening. Though the program never promised me any money or a matching savings (like some other programs) they did teach me about the different government, non-profit, and private programs out there to help people like me.
The DC Department of Housing and Community Development has the HPAP, Home Purchase Assistance Program. This program provides low or no interest loans for low and moderate first-time homebuyers for a downpayment and/or closing costs. You can read more about the program and the conditions here (PDF). My housing councilor discouraged me from pursuing this program. The reasoning I remember was that it was too much of a headache and I had enough in my savings to cover closing costs and make a minimum-ish down payment.
My councilor found me a below market rate loan offered by the DC Housing Finance Agency. I think it was a part of the Single Family Revenue Bond program, which according to the website is currently at 5.50% at the low rate and 6.15% with the Assisted Rate program. Clicking around I see that the program is something moderate (make less than 91K for a one or two person household) income folks could get into. HOWEVER, I think this is where I picked up a string and a deal with the devil. Because either the tax program or the loan program (I have to look closer at that stack of papers I signed) made it so that I if I sold the house within 10 years at a profit, I would owe the District a huge chunk of change, taking away any incentive to sell. And there was another program out there (I don't remember which one) that required permission to take out a 2nd loan. I understand the logic behind the strings. Not allowing me to sell, makes sure that I don't come out like a bandit at the District's expense, and it stabilizes the neighborhood. I'm sorta maybe okay with that. The restriction with the 2nd loan, which I'm not sure with, keeps people from profiting another way.
Then there are the tax programs to help poor and low-moderate income people. I barely remember something about some fees that the city charges with real estate transactions being waived. There might have been another insignificant string in that. But the big one was the $5000 house credit, which you take off from your income taxes. I got mine over the period of 2 years probably because I paid so little in income taxes (due to small income). Also because I had such a small income, I qualified for the Lower Income Home Ownership Tax Abatement.
Something I noticed by attending community meetings, and I'm sure there are a few of these deals in MD & VA (but I don't hear about them), are affordable/ below market rate units set aside in new construction. The city seems to encourage this. Occasionally the odd-non-profit, like Manna and Mi Casa, builds or rehabs a place to sell at below market rates.
Working with the different programs, desperate enough to accept the strings attached to them and willing to live in a neighborhood with few amenities, lots of headaches but lots of potential, I was able to buy my first home in the District.