SAN DIEGO — Eileen Gomez was living with her mom and sister in a mobile home when she made herself a promise.
"I didn't want to stay there and be stuck, so I said I'm going to find a way to own a home," she said.
In San Diego's tight housing market, that's easier said than done. Property owners are often putting their homes on the market and getting multiple offers above asking price. Gomez, who works in retail in Mission Valley, didn't let that stop her.
She found out about a program through the San Diego Housing Commission that will loan qualifying first-time buyers up to 22 percent of a home's purchase price as a down payment. To be eligible, she had to come up with 3 percent on her own, which involved sacrifice.
"It was very hard to see your friends go out, it was very hard to not have the newest stuff around like the newest cell phone the nicest car, you have to stay grounded, and focus and save your money," Gomez said.
Gomez came up with the cash and applied to the commission. In December 2020, she bought a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo in the College Area for $350,000.
The program is open to households making 80 percent of Area Median Income or less. For instance, a three-person household earning up to $87,300 a year would be eligible to borrow up to $150,000 for a down payment. That would increase their purchasing power from $470,000 to $680,000.
The down-payment loan, a second mortgage at 3 percent simple interest, is not paid back monthly. Instead, it is due in full in 30 years, upon sale, or if the homeowner no longer occupies the home as a primary residence. There is also up to $10,000 in closing cost grant funding available.
Sujata Raman, the commission's vice president of single family housing finance, said with the market prices increasing so quickly, participants generally sell their homes and move on within 7 to 9 years.
"Borrowers can make payments, but usually what tends to happen is borrowers refinance their mortgage at some point and roll the second mortgage into their first mortgage and pay us back, or the loan comes due upon sale of their property," Raman said.
The commission has $4.9 million available for San Diegans to apply.
As for Gomez, Zillow estimates her condo has already grown in value by $109,000. She hopes that equity helps her trade up to a larger home to raise her three children.
"Now that everybody's complaining about the prices going up, it's like, wow, it's a relief," she said. "I have something of my own now."