When President Richard C. Levin first announced Yale’s groundbreaking New Haven Homebuyer Program for University faculty and staff on April 20, 1994, he was asked by a reporter, “What is the limit on the number of participants?”
“There is no limit,” Levin responded, signaling Yale’s ongoing commitment to its hometown. Aimed at strengthening neighborhoods, the Homebuyer Program was one of the first programs Levin launched as part of Yale’s community investment program with New Haven. In the years since, major initiatives with the public schools and for economic development have also grown.
The Yale Homebuyer Program marked a major milestone in 2011, surpassing 1,000 Yale employees who have bought homes in New Haven with University support. To date, there have been 1,013 participants.
“New Haven has been my own home for over 40 years, and I know how great a place it is to live and raise a family,” Levin says. “It gives me tremendous satisfaction that the Yale Homebuyer Program has led so many colleagues to invest in New Haven’s neighborhoods, enjoy the benefits of living here, and contribute to our community’s renaissance.”
From the beginning, the Homebuyer Program has had a straightforward design. It gives permanent employees working 20 or hours or more a week an annual income benefit if they purchase a home to own and occupy in target areas in the city. The program operates in two-year phases to allow for assessment of its impact and for strategic modifications. Currently, the program provides employees with a $5,000 first-year bonus and an annual $2,500 grant for up to 10 years as long as they continue to own and live in the home and remain employed by the University. This $30,000 total benefit is the most generous such incentive offered by any university-based employer-assisted homeownership program in the country.
Home purchases in a large portion of the city qualify, including Wooster Square, the eastern portion of East Rock, Beaver Hills, and the six “empowerment zone” neighborhoods: Newhallville, Dixwell, Dwight, Fair Haven, the Hill, Newhallville, and West Hills. This geographic area is the largest covered among any of the nation’s university homeownership programs. The benefit is popular across Yale’s various job families: 29% of the homebuyers since 1994 are members of the Yale faculty, 27% are management and professional staff, 31% are clerical and technical staff, and 13% are service and maintenance staff.
The one thousand-plus homebuyers cite New Haven’s vitality as a place where people choose to live and be involved as a major reason for their participation in the program. “Yale really helped us with our move to the New Haven area,” says Ryan Wepler, assistant director of the Yale College Writing Center, who bought a home in Fair Haven. “We’re now active with our neighbors through the Chatham Square Neighborhood Association. Since we have two fellow Yale homebuyers nearby, the program strengthens bonds inside and outside work.”
Wepler is not alone in his involvement. Almost two-thirds of Yale homebuyer program participants report that they participate in neighborhood activities such as block watches, parent groups at schools, and neighborhood management teams.
More than 80% of Yale employee participants have been first time homebuyers; these include both incoming employees moving to the area and existing employees looking to move from rental housing to a place they can call their own.
New Haven has enjoyed the largest population growth from 2000 to 2010 of any place over 100,000 in New England according to the U.S. Census. Notably, the Census recorded a 9% increase over those 10 years in the number of husband-wife families with young kids living in the city.
This year, even amidst the ongoing effects of the global economic downturn, New Haven has seen the opening of a Stop & Shop supermarket in the Dwight neighborhood in March, the launch of an Apple Store on Broadway in September, and the establishment of a full-service grocery store in the Elm City market downtown in November. Reuters reported in October that New Haven has the highest apartment occupancy rate of any market in the United States — a statistic that many point to as evidence of the resilience of the city’s renaissance.
The Homebuyer Program is a key element of Yale University’s overall partnership with its neighbors to sustain a strong New Haven. To date, Yale University has committed a total investment of $25 million in incentives for employees, with the total value of all homes purchased by Yale faculty and staff valued at over $175 million at point of sale. The program overall has had a positive impact on the New Haven housing market, with realtors reporting that it is a factor in making New Haven an even more attractive as a place to buy for both Yale employees and others. In 2010-2011, purchases by Yale employees represent 12.5% of all residential sales in New Haven, and 14% of the value of all residential sales in that time period.
Yale also supports a wide array of programs to support public education, including the New Haven Promise college scholarship initiative launched a year ago, and on-campus academic programs for public school students throughout the school year and the summer. The University is an active partner in creating a vital downtown and promoting New Haven’s economic development through its community investment program, and as a result is one of the largest payers of real estate taxes in New Haven. It also makes an additional voluntary contribution to the city budget that helps fund municipal services for residents throughout New Haven.
“The City of New Haven is fortunate to have at its center an institution like Yale that appreciates and understands the value of the neighborhoods that surround it,” Mayor John DeStefano, Jr., said in saluting this most recent milestone of the New Haven-Yale partnership. “The Yale Homebuyer Program is just one example of the many positive investments Yale University has made in its home town, and the city is better off for it.”
In light of the Yale Homebuyer Program’s continuing positive impact and to support New Haven’s ongoing renaissance, the university’s trustees voted at their most recent meeting on Dec. 10 to renew the program for another two year-period through Dec. 31, 2013.