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Grant program offers up to $5,000 for first-time military home buyers

Editor's note: This article has been edited to clarify that the grant through the Dream Makers program goes to the closing agent, so it is applied directly only to closing costs or to the equity in the home.

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — A national grant program gives military members up to $5,000 to be used for any costs associated with buying their first home.

“Applying for the grant was really easy,” said Sgt. Jonathan Lewis, a Camp Lejeune supply Marine who recently bought his first home in Jacksonville with his wife.

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Lewis received $5,000 from the Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to meet the unmet needs of military personnel and their families, through the PenFed Foundation’s Dream Makers program.

Under the Dream Makers program, qualifying military personnel and veterans who are buying their first homes can receive a grant of up to $5,000 to cover a portion of their down payment and closing costs.

“Members of our nation’s military frequently move, living on bases around the country and overseas,” said Kate Kohler, chief operating officer of the PenFed Foundation and a former Army captain. “When they are finally able to settle down, they often need a little help with purchasing their first home.”

The service member needs to put down one dollar for every three the PenFed Foundation contributes. If the service member or veteran wants to receive the full $5,000 grant, they must put $1,667 dollars into the home. If they choose to put down less, they will receive a smaller grant, equivalent to three times what the service member puts into the home.

“We do want them to participate in the grant with us, so it’s very important from our perspective to ask (the service member) to put down some money,” Kohler said.

In addition to putting down money on the home, the service member is asked to attend a first-time home buyers class, either offered on-base or online.

“We offer the grant, but we really want to make sure people have all the tools to be first-time homeowners,” Kohler said.

To apply for a grant, military members must prove they were or are currently active duty, reserve or National Guard, make under $55,000 a year, and be a first-time home buyer, or have not owned a home for the last three years or have lost their home through divorce or disaster.

“We want to emphasize that we have a 100-percent acceptance policy for anyone that meets the criteria,” Kohler said. “As long as a service member or veteran meets the criteria, they will receive a grant.”

Kohler said the PenFed Foundation has given away more than 153 grants this year totaling $748,000. She said they hope to reach a million dollars given away by the end of the year.

Service members can apply for a Dream Makers grant online at penfedfoundation.org/dreammakers. Grantees do not need to be a Pentagon Federal Credit Union member, and the grant can be applied to a mortgage from any financial institution.

“To be able to have a place to call ours ... It’s a relief,” Lewis said. “We aren’t worrying about paying out rent that we’re never going to get back. Everything that we put into this home we’re going to get back. We know that this (home) is now ours.”
  

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