Boss, Can You Spare a Down Payment?

Blame it on New Year’s optimism, but good things could happen this year for both struggling homebuyers and those trying to keep their homes.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen an interesting mix of options for underwater homeowners. Early on, fee-based scammers flocked in to “help” with foreclosure mediation, loan modifications and refinancing. But in time, the real experts emerged. Now, groups like Housing for Nevada, the Legal Aid Center and are helping people get real answers for their home-ownership dilemmas.

Also, from the foreclosure ashes, a first-time homebuyer market is rising. These daring souls do battle with cash investors. They scrape together down payments for an FHA loan pre-qualification, and hit up parents and sellers for closing costs to take advantage of low real estate prices.

This year, some of those real estate virgins will probably find help from an unlikely ally: their employer. Yes, that guy up top complaining about the cost to keep the doors open—the one who probably laid off that first-time homebuyer’s best friend in the neighboring cubicle—may be the one to match savings for a down payment or kick in for closing costs.

For Dawn Lane, a Valley real estate broker and founder of nonprofit H.O.P.E. (Housing Opportunities, Programs and Education) Home Foundation, the past 10 years have been about spreading the word that employers who take on housing-assistance programs will reap the rewards of a satisfied, productive workforce while building a vibrant community close to work. And, yes, they’ll save money, too.

Lane points to examples in Chicago where 70 employers have helped about 2,500 employees get into affordable housing as owners or renters. Boston and some California cities share similar stories, she says, and now it’s time for Vegas employers to step up.

“I know there are people who are all gung-ho that investors are buying up all these houses, but I don’t like it,” Lane says. “I’m tired of hearing people complain that there’s no sense of community. This can help.”

When Lane created H.O.P.E. about a decade ago, the Valley had plenty of excuses. During the boom, credit was easy and no one cared. During the bust, there’s the obvious resistance to a bottom-line hit from employers. But with Lane’s current approach—evaluating what a company spends on employee retention and showing how that cost can be reduced if housing assistance is offered—her calls are finally being taken., the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors, First American Title and a few other businesses have been in talks with Lane, and local government officials from across the Valley will champion her efforts at the Under One Roof forum Jan. 25 at the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.