Opening Doors for First Time Homebuyers

Sylvia Rivera is a single mother of two young boys. Up until last year they lived in rental apartments. But last year, Rivera was finally able to buy a condo in Long Beach, thanks to a grant program for first time home buyers.

"We were able to obtain $15,000 for down payment assistance," Rivera said.

The grant money came from the charitable arm of Pacific West Realtors Association -- a group representing realtors from Orange County and parts of southern Los Angeles County.

The program is called "Opening Doors" and it began doing just that for new homebuyers last year.

Mike De Leon, President of the Pacific West Realtors Charitable Foundation says realtors have given to a lot of needy causes over the years, to help victims of Hurricane Katrina or the Tsunami, for example.

"But we wanted to come up with something outside of disasters that realtors could get behind," De Leon said.

So, they got behind people, like Sylvia Rivera and her boys, who might never have been able to own anything in California's high-priced housing market.

Money to fund the grants comes from a variety of sources. Members of Pacific West Association of Realtors all donate each year when they pay their dues; they raise money from classes to inform other realtors about the program; Wells Fargo Bank donated $45,000 and the California Association of Realtors, $100,000 to kick off the program.

To qualify for the down payment grant Rivera had to meet very strict requirements. She had to be a first-time buyer, be approved for a 30-year fixed rate loan, and come up with at least one-percent of the purchase price for the down payment. And she had to buy in one of the 32 cities that Pacific West Realtors represents.

Rivera is one of 34 first-time homebuyers who have now received more than $350,000 in grant money -- money they will never have to repay. Rivera says it's helped her achieve the American Dream.

"Having this grant has meant that I established roots for my boys, having their own home, having something that we can call ours," Rivera said.

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