Bipartisan legislation can help ‘homefront heroes’ achieve the American Dream | Opinion

·3 min read

From armed battles on the other side of the globe to terror attacks on our own soil, America is no stranger to turbulent times. For more than two centuries, we have counted on brave Americans who rise to the challenge to protect our country and communities, whether overseas or at home.

This time, the enemy is a virus. For the past 18 months, police officers, firefighters, paramedics and teachers have put their health and the health of their loved ones on the line so they can serve their communities during one of the largest pandemics in history.

Despite continuing to show up for others every day, these frontline heroes are getting crushed by skyrocketing housing prices, leaving them out of affordable-housing options. America’s best are drowning, and we can’t leave them behind.

U.S. Reps. Maria Elvira Salazar and Carlos Gimenez understand the boundless value that first responders and teachers provide to South Florida and appreciate the sacrifices they make, especially in the face of COVID-19. That’s why both are cosponsors of the Homes for Every Local Protector, Educator and Responder (HELPER) Act. This common-sense legislation is supported by more than three dozen Republican and Democratic lawmakers from every corner of the country, including six House members from Florida. This legislation is desperately needed.

According to the latest Case-Shiller index, year-over-year home prices recently surged by almost 20%, with the median price at an all-time high. However, police, firefighters, paramedics and teachers in Florida have seen average annual wage growth of just 2%-3%, leaving this largely forgotten class of first-time buyers boxed out of the housing market. It’s time for those who have continued to serve during the pandemic, to enjoy access to the American Dream of affordable homeownership. The HELPER Act would help make that idea a reality, creating a viable path for frontline workers to build wealth for themselves and a better future for their families.

Florida supporters include Republican Rep. John Rutherford, Democratic Rep. Al Lawson, in addition to Republican Sen. Marco Rubio. This game-changing bipartisan legislation would eliminate down-payment requirements and offer 100% financing for one-time home purchases for buyers who fall within one of the frontline hero categories: police and corrections officers, firefighters, paramedics and EMTs and preK-12 teachers.

Passage would mean that if a young firefighter or a middle-school teacher wants to purchase a moderately priced home, they would receive a loan to finance the entire purchase price.

Another key measure of the HELPER Act is the elimination of monthly mortgage insurance premium requirements. Under the normal FHA system, most homebuyers who cannot afford a 20% down payment must pay a monthly insurance premium and an upfront cost. A $200,000 home, for example, would normally require a monthly premium of $140. Under the HELPER Act, this additional monthly cost is eliminated.

Not only does this legislation save homebuyers significant amounts of money, but it would be low risk for the federal government; and loss only occurs if the homebuyer defaults into foreclosure. Because first responders and teachers are dedicated public servants employed in stable, often career-lasting jobs, the odds of this happening are minimal.

Gimenez and Salazar understand the importance of this moment, and I applaud them for their support in turning this common-sense idea into a legislative reality. As the national director for Heroes First Home Loans and a Marine Corps veteran, I know that our first responders and teachers deserve the same access to affordable housing that our veterans do. These brave first responders and educators deserve to live in the same communities in which they serve without the excessive financial burdens imposed by ballooning housing costs.

These homefront heroes have already sacrificed so much, and they have earned their slice of the American Dream. Let’s ensure they receive it.

Samuel P. Royer is the national director for Heroes First Home Loans.