Interest-free loans to first-time home buyers 'step in the right direction'

First-time home buyers across Nova Scotia with household incomes under $75,000 are eligible for loans, but group says people in that income bracket can't afford homes in urban areas serviced by public transit.

Loans available for homes up to $280K in HRM and up to $150K in rest of province

There is a lack of affordable housing on the real estate markets in the price range of many low-income families. (Robson Fletcher/CBC)

A Housing Nova Scotia offer of interest-free loans for first-time, low-income home buyers is a "step in the right direction" but may not get many takers, says ACORN, a national organization of low- and moderate-income families.

Dartmouth North MLA Joanne Bernard, who at the time of the announcement was the minister responsible for Housing Nova Scotia, said the recently announced program removes a hurdle for those people who find it difficult to save up for a down payment.

The loan is for up to five per cent of the purchase price of a new or existing home, to a maximum price of $280,000 in Halifax Regional Municipality and $150,000 in the rest of the province.

But the offer has limited value for most low-income Nova Scotians seeking homes that they can afford to buy, says ACORN's Dartmouth chair Jonethan Brigley.

Challenge to find affordable houses near services

"It appears to be a step in the right direction, but it is not the first thing they (government) should be looking at," Brigley said Sunday.

"The biggest thing right now is the lack of low-income, affordable houses in general."

He said homes in the price range of people who are eligible for the loans would be "in a rural area, off the beaten path, not where Metro Transit goes." That would require purchasing a vehicle and being able to afford gas, not in the budget of many low-income families, he added.

"Even getting a simple apartment for low-income people is a big struggle, never mind an actual house."

The program, which starts May 1, is being funded by the province at a cost of $1.05 million. The federal government's Social Infrastructure Fund is providing $250,000 to cover interest costs and carrying charges.

Interest-free loan

Conditions for loan approval include:

  • The property is located in Nova Scotia.
  • The applicant is a first-time home buyer.
  • The applicant is pre-approved for an insured mortgage by a recognized financial institution.
  • The applicant has a satisfactory credit rating.
  • The applicant's total household income is less than $75,000.
  • The applicant has resided in Nova Scotia for at least 12 months.

That means they will range as high as $14,000 in HRM and $7,500 in other parts of the province. The total amounts will  be calculated based on the applicants' income and the house purchase price.

The home buyers will have 10 years to repay the loan. Payments can be waived for the first year to allow new homeowners to adjust to any unforeseen costs, the statement said.