Geneva is one of 8 upstate cities chosen for a $5 million Graduate to Homeownership Program

Finger Lakes Community College student Kelli Mero isn’t thinking much about buying a home — yet. Mero said her mind is preoccupied with getting through college and pursuing a career in healthcare.

But Mero, 28, added she hopes to settle in the Finger Lakes region where she grew up and her family lives. So she liked what she heard on Wednesday.

A new $5 million Graduate to Homeownership Program was announced at the FLCC Geneva campus before students, college and community leaders. Lt. Gov, Kathy Hochul, on a panel with local leaders, unveiled Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to help recent college graduates become first-time homeowners.

"More and more, young people today are looking to work and live in downtown areas with easy access to community restaurants, shopping, transportation, and culture,” said Hochul, mentioning the tourism, agriculture and recreation that make the Finger Lakes a desirable place to live. "The new Grad to Homeownership program completes the package by providing our graduates with the opportunity to buy homes in our downtowns, increasing their attractiveness as places to live, work and raise a family right in upstate New York,” she said.

The city of Geneva is one of eight upstate cities chosen to launch of the program created by New York State Home and Community Renewal. Geneva is a draw for college students with FLCC, Hobart and William Smith Colleges and Cornell University, said Sage Gerling, director of Neighborhood Initiatives with the city of Geneva, who attended the event. The city in recent years has seen an increase in the number of college graduates who settle there, she said. The program should encourage the trend that is reenergizing the city, said Gerling.

Among those on the panel with Hochul was John Johnson, executive director of the Technology Farm in Geneva. The Tech Farm is a campus for research and development in the areas of food and agriculture and houses the FLCC Viticulture Building. Johnson said the Grad to Homeownership program will make it possible for many more graduates to put down roots in a community that needs professionals in all areas — from lawyers and architects, to teachers and scientists.

“This creates an opportunity to bring professionals into this community,” Johnson said.

“We look forward to the rollout of this program, knowing how positive it will be for FLCC alumni and the community at large,” said FLCC President Robert Nye.

To qualify for the program, a person must be a first-time homebuyer who has graduated from an accredited college or university with an associate's, bachelor's, master's or doctorate degree within the last 48 months. Graduates must be purchasing a home in one of the eight communities: Geneva, Jamestown, Elmira, Oswego, Oneonta, Plattsburgh, Glens Falls, and Middletown.

The program is administered by the State of New York Mortgage Agency, which provides financing and programs for first-time low- and moderate- income homebuyers in the state. Since 2011, the agency has provided $1.5 billion in mortgage financing, making homeownership possible for more than 9,000 New Yorkers.

Key features of the Graduate to Homeownership Program include: subsidized low-interest rate mortgages; down-payment assistance loan of the greater of $3,000 or 3 percent of the home purchase price up to a maximum of $15,000, with no additional fees; access to additional available subsidies and resources; and online and on-campus homebuyer counseling and education.

Sherri Eckles, senior vice president of State of New York Mortgage Agency (SONYMA), said the education piece is a great feature because it helps new home buyers budget and manage their mortgage. She said data shows home buyers are 33 percent more successful in paying their mortgage with counseling and education.

SONYMA is working with a network of homeownership counseling agencies, colleges and universities, and mortgage lenders to ensure those in the program have what they need to make informed financial decisions. The network will operate at participating campuses in the eight communities and help home buyers structure their finances in a way that decreases the likelihood of delinquency or default.

“A recent Fannie Mae National Housing Survey showed that 90 percent of people aged 25 to 34 who rent are likely to eventually buy a home. While New York City leads the nation with more than 71 percent of students from colleges and universities remaining in the area after they graduate, many upstate communities have struggled to retain graduates,” according to a release about the program. “With growing upstate economies and attractive, affordable housing markets, these communities are ideal for millennial homeownership.”