NEWARK, NJ - A financial program designed to boost homeownership will expand to Essex County this fall with a $5 million commitment from Wells Fargo.

The NeighborhoodLIFT program will create more than 180 Essex County homeowners by offering $20,000 down payment assistance grants that require completion of HUD-certified homebuyer education.

Nearly one-third of U.S. households spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs. "Through the NeighborhoodLIFT program, Wells Fargo is providing down payment assistance to hardworking families and individuals in Essex County so they can realize the dream of homeownership. This provides them with the opportunity to build wealth and live in safe, stable, and affordable homes," said Greg White, Wells Fargo Community Bank’s Northern New Jersey region bank president.

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Interested homebuyers who want to apply for a down payment assistance grant must register beginning Monday, Sept. 16, at 9 a.m. at to attend the free event.

Wells Fargo’s 75th LIFT program launch event is scheduled on Saturday, Oct. 5, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Renaissance Newark Airport Hotel, at 1000 Spring St. in Elizabeth, N.J.

New Jersey Community Capital will administer the $20,000 grants and determine eligibility. Local HUD-certified housing counselors will provide the required homebuyer education.

“We’re ready to help more Essex County residents become homeowners with the support of NeighborhoodLIFT homebuyer education and down payment assistance,” said Wayne Meyer, president of New Jersey Community Capital.

Approved homebuyers will have up to 60 days to finalize a contract to purchase a home in Essex County and can obtain mortgage financing from any participating lender. To reserve the full grant amount, participants buying a primary residence with the NeighborhoodLIFT program must commit to live in the home for five years.

“The required homebuyer education classes provided by certified professionals better prepare NeighborhoodLIFT homebuyers to achieve their goal of sustainable homeownership," Joanie Straussman Brandon, Northeastern regional vice president with NeighborWorks America, said.

The NeighborhoodLIFT program for Essex County follows Wells Fargo’s announcement in June of an evolution in the company’s philanthropic strategy which includes a $1 billion commitment over the next six years to address the U.S. housing affordability crisis.

Overall, Wells Fargo and NeighborWorks America have teamed to implement 74 LIFT program launches across the U.S., with Essex County being the 75th

Since 2012, LIFT programs have assisted nearly 22,000 homeowners, in nearly 900 municipalities, who have purchased more than $3.36 billion in real estate supported by a total investment of $475 million by Wells Fargo. Mortgage loans made through LIFT programs are not exclusive to Wells Fargo.

Wells Fargo has also committed $325,000 for up to 650 consumers to receive complimentary face-to-face homeownership counseling. Interested homebuyers may also receive a voucher at the Essex County NeighborhoodLIFT launch event that will provide in-person homeownership counseling at no charge with a participating HUD-approved housing counselor.

The homeownership counseling grant program is a resource in addition to the homebuyer education required for a NeighborhoodLIFT down payment assistance grant.

The 2019 Essex County NeighborhoodLIFT program follows the 2013 CityLIFT program, which included Newark, and created 352 homeowners.