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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 7, 2010

Maui County fund helps 7 families buy their first homes

The Maui News

WAIHEE, Maui - Seven families have purchased homes using money from the county's first-time homebuyers fund, the county announced last week.

The program provides grants of up to $15,000 to families buying their first home to assist with down-payment or closing costs. Recipients don't need to repay the money unless they refinance their mortgage for cash, stop using their home as their primary residence or sell the home within 15 years.

Recipients also need to be county residents and meet income requirements, earning no more than 140 percent of the median income.

The county began taking applications for the program in November, four years after the fund was established. The grants were awarded in December.

"I wanted to establish a program that would help middle-income families purchase their first home," said County Council Member Mike Molina, who proposed the fund. "I am excited for these hardworking families who can now experience the dream of homeownership in Maui County. It's very gratifying to hear their stories and see their pride of being new homeowners."

Mayor Charmaine Tavares said: "For these families, it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I'm glad was available to them."

Tavares, Molina and other county officials met with grant recipients at a gathering Dec. 31 at the home of Charles and Joy Au, who are teachers at Lokelani Intermediate School and have a 15-month-old child.

Charles Au said he grew up one of 11 children in a rural Oahu family that never owned a home.

"My whole life I thought I would never have the opportunity to own a home because of the cost," he said in a statement released by the county. "Thank you so much for taking away that obstacle."

A father of three, Manny Visitacion said: "For the longest time I was trying to get a house for my kids, and I never dreamed I could do it."

He said friends encouraged him to apply for the program.

The fund was created in 2005 at the peak of the county's affordable-housing crisis, but issues that arose in drafting procedures for administering the program delayed its implementation. In the four years since it was established, the fund had accumulated $1.6 million, but the Maui County Council cut it to $200,000 last year in response to a budget shortfall.