Helping homebuyers with down payments is one way to mitigate the affordable housing crisis.

“What we do to make buying a home more affordable is offer down payment assistance,” said Cris White, the executive director and CEO of the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority. “What we have learned over the many years of doing this is cash flow isn’t typically the barrier to owning a home.”

White and five other panelists discussed how state and local housing finance agencies play a critical role in affordable and workforce housing availability at a forum last Friday. The panel event was sponsored by the Housing & Building Association of Colorado Springs at Centennial Hall in downtown.

When a person or family is ready to own a home, White says it’s because they believe they can afford it.

“They are employed; their credit score is good, and their debt and equity is where it should be,” he said. “The biggest barrier is coming up with the down payment. That’s why we do everything we do with down payments.”

CHFA offers two forms of down payment assistance, including a grant, which is up to 4 percent of a homebuyer’s first mortgage.

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Secondly, is the second mortgage loan option, which is up to 5 percent of the first mortgage. The loan repayment balance defers until certain events, such as payoff of the first mortgage or sale of the home.

“Today, about 35 percent of our borrowers take the grant and 65 percent elect the second mortgage,” White said. “The grant has higher loan pricing and the second mortgage has lower loan pricing. We are actually trying to get away from offering grants because we are finding that they are less and less necessary with our second mortgage product.”

Besides down payment assistance, the agency also emphasizes on its homebuyer education.

“That is the single most important thing we offer according to the people that we serve because most of them — about 90 percent — are first time homebuyers,” White said.

The information CHFA provides includes how to budget, understand loan documents and handling escrow payments.

“It really helps them they tell us to understand what they are getting into,” White said.

In February, CHFA conducted a housing focus group in Colorado Springs.

“All of the participants in the focus group expressed a desire to buy a home,” White said. “The reason why that’s so significant is we have heard — especially two or three years ago I hear less of it now — there were people paying thousands and thousands of dollars for studies to prove the fact that Millennials didn’t want to be homeowners, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth.”

CHFA closed $2 billion in mortgages last year, and 54 percent of those went to Millennials.

“That’s over a billion dollars just from CHFA that doesn’t even speak to the broader market that went to Millennials,” White said, adding it’s important to talk about Millennials because they are becoming the state’s largest population.

The generation is moving to Colorado Springs at a higher rate than any other U.S. city, according to a report released in February by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program.

The city saw a 14.7 percent Millennial growth rate from 2010 to 2015, beating cities such as Denver and Austin, and it also ranks sixth in the country for highest share of Millennials.

“They are coming; they are here,” White said. “[The housing demand is] going to grow rapidly because they all at some point want to be homeowners. And that’s where we come in with trying to help make that happen through down payment assistance and homebuyer education.”

Other panelists at the forum included Allison George, the director of the DOLA division of housing; DeAnne McCann, the executive director of the El Paso County Housing Authority; Irv Walter, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs; Mike Burks, the deputy director of the city of Colorado Springs Housing Authority; and Steve Posey, the HUD program administrator for Colorado Springs.

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