Urban Pioneer Program offers $10k to first-time homebuyers in Port Huron

For many years the City of Port Huron has offered a forgivable down payment assistance loan through the Urban Pioneer Program (UPP), but now a significant expansion to the program’s funding is making it easier than ever for first-time homebuyers in Port Huron.

“The goal is to help get people in homes and make homeownership accessible for more of the population,” says Jazmyn Thomas, Community Development Program Administrator for the City of Port Huron. “At the end of the day, homes are normally people's biggest asset, so getting people who might not otherwise be able to afford a home into a home is the key.”

Formerly the program offered $5,000 toward down payment assistance but more funding was made available earlier this year.

“The program was always $5,000 from the inception of it, so it's never changed amounts, and with the market the way it is we really needed to bump it up,” Thomas says. “Houses are really expensive right now and $5,000 isn't what it used to be.”

First-time homebuyers, or those who have not owned real estate within the last three years, with low to moderate income and who are looking to purchase a home in Port Huron are eligible for funding from the program which is forgivable as long as the resident lives in the home for five years and maintains the property.

“Of all the areas that we lend in, I'm not aware of one program that's better than Urban Pioneer,” says Aaron Hulett, Loan Officer with MiMutual Mortgage. “If the buyer lives there for five years or longer, they don't have to pay any of it back — it’s literally free money. The other grant programs that are available, typically you have to pay it back.”

Port Huron residents Tyler Moldovan and Alexandra Hand packing up to move to their new home.

Port Huron resident Tyler Moldovan utilized the program when he and his girlfriend Alexandra Hand purchased their first home together in 2019. Originally from metro Detroit, Moldovan says he came to Port Huron to help his brother who had bought a house that needed a lot of work. Ultimately, Moldovan fell in love with the area and decided to stay.

“It's incredible, not just for tourism purposes, but just living here is amazing,” he says. “The cost of living is reasonable, the amenities that are currently here, and what could happen with fewer vacancies around — it seems like the fuse is lit and it’s only a matter of time before it takes off.”

Now the proud owners of a historic home built in 1888, Moldovan says funding from the program helped them avoid the stress of borrowing money from family to purchase the property.

“It was just peace of mind,” Moldovan says. “The program didn’t add any stressors and everyone was helpful. The fact that it offers resources to people who don't normally have the opportunity or creates another avenue for folks to get that without relying on other people, it’s nice to know that it exists.”

For those with a low credit score or limited funds for a down payment, Amber Woods, Realtor for Realty Executives Home Towne, says purchasing a home is still achievable.

“I think the main misconceptions when it comes to homeownership are that you need a lot of money down or really great credit, but there are a lot of resources out there,” Woods says. “Homeownership is not that far away. We might need to work on a few things, but it can happen.”

Aaron Hulett, Loan Officer with MiMutual Mortgage in Port Huron.Amidst talk about inflation concerning some potential homebuyers, Hulett says mortgage rates are still below the historically average 30-year fixed rates. Depending on several factors, including loan amount and credit score, he says most borrowers could anticipate seeing mortgage rates averaging around 5.7 to 5.8%.

“If you really look at it, this is a really, really good time to buy,” Hulett says. “Any market changes or the economy starts to change, inflation kicking in, people get a little bit paralyzed by that information and don't know what to do. People right now are saying the housing market is going to crash or go way down and there's a lot of data to back up that that's just simply not going to happen.”

Hulett says that with the dynamics in the current market, he believes the city will see more use of the Urban Pioneer Program as a result.

“Rent prices have gone up at the same speed or higher in home values,” Hulett says. “To try and rent just an average three-bedroom home in St. Clair County right now, the price varies, but it's $1,200 to $1,500 a month and you can own a nice home for that.”

With many having been pushed out of the market over the last few years and an influx in opportunities for remote work, programs such as Urban Pioneer may be appealing to potential homeowners who are no longer restricted by the proximity of their workplace.

“We haven't seen it utilized the last couple of years because the market has been so competitive, but the market is slowly shifting with interest rates,” Hulett says. “I think the program is especially going to shine in the next couple of years as the housing market probably slowly levels off.”

To see the full list of program requirements or to download an application, visit porthuron.org/departments/planning_community_development/community_development_division.php.

Read more articles by Liz Fredendall.

Liz Fredendall is a photojournalist and communications professional with nonprofit experience. In addition to her work with The Keel, Liz manages communications for the Community Foundation of St. Clair County, runs her own photography business, and writes for several publications. During her free time, Liz enjoys reading and exploring the Blue Water Area with her husband Erick and their corgi, Nori. Contact Liz at editor@thekeelph.com or follow her on Instagram @lizfredendallphoto.