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Bill proposed for $0 down on home purchases for teachers, first responders

The HELPER Act proposes a mortgage financing program for teachers and first responders to combat the perpetual rise in cost of living.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A proposed housing amendment bill that would establish a mortgage financing program for civil servants across the country was introduced in October 2021 by Senator Marco Rubio.

The HELPER Act – Homes for Every Local Protector, Educator and Responder – is a one-time, $0 down home loan option for teachers, firefighters, police, EMT and other public servants to combat the perpetual rise in housing costs. 

A number of local elected officials are in favor and are heavily advocating for this bill, including Rep. Josh Harder (D-Turlock).

“When I was growing up, people could afford to live near where they worked,” Harder said. “If you were a cop, a firefighter, a teacher, then you could actually live in the community that you served – that's no longer the case.”

Public education, law enforcement, fire and other emergency services have faced consistently high statewide staffing shortages in recent years, partially due to the rising cost of living.

“Increasingly, a lot of folks in our area who serve as teachers or firefighters have to commute from very long distances, or they're completely priced out of our area to begin with,” Harder said.

Harder said his concern is that public servants, especially in the Central Valley, can't afford to work in the communities where they are needed most.

“I remember when it used to be $700 for a one bedroom in Tracy, now it's over $2,000,” Harder said. “We have to do more in terms of making the Valley affordable for the folks who actually live and work here.”

The HELPER Act aims to address this issue by providing housing relief to state-funded service workers and educators.

According to Harder, the bill would likely save state-funded employees up to $35,000 on housing costs, a considerable amount compared to their average salaries.

“The average price of a home in San Joaquin County is over half a million dollars,” Harder said. “Not a lot of folks living on a teacher salary can afford that, and yet our kids need to be educated and so a bill like this is really important to make sure that we can close that gap.”

With 66 cosponsors so far, 37 Democrat and 29 Republican, this bill has become a bipartisan effort with very little opposition.

“I think anytime you're looking at something like this, a lot of folks look at how much it's going to cost,” Harder said. “I think we have to be able to really showcase to people... how much it costs our community if we don't have cops and firefighters and teachers that can actually afford to live here.”

Harder said this is the first step in a much larger issue with housing that needs to be addressed, as high housing prices impact every person in the Central Valley and beyond.

“I think we have to do a lot more, not just for firefighters and teachers and cops, but for everybody,” Harder said. 

In April 2022, the median home price in California reached $790,475, an over 22% increase since the year prior.

Some prevalent contributions to increases in housing costs include the recently inflated price of lumber and construction.

“One of the things I'm working on right now is trying to make it easier, simpler and cheaper to actually build a home in the first place,” Harder said.

This HELPER Act is still in the beginning stages of processing and must complete review by the committee before it can be passed on to the Senate and the House.

“There's a lot of different parts of the country, and if you live in a different state or different community, moving housing costs are not quite as top of mind as they are for us in the Valley,” Harder said. “We really need to make sure that we're showing 435 representatives and 100 senators that this is a problem that's actually being felt in a lot of places, and we need to do more."

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