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Applications close Aug. 30 for a program assisting low- and middle-income residents who want to buy their first house. Credit: Amir Aziz

Headlines describing piping-hot real estate markets, vicious bidding wars, and record-high home prices in the East Bay can make anyone feel hopeless, let alone someone who’s aspiring to buy their first house.

While home-buying remains a competitive sport in the Bay Area, first-time buyers in Alameda County are now able to apply for assistance that could put that first purchase within reach.

Applications are now open through Aug. 30 for the latest round of AC Boost funds. The program began after Alameda County voters passed Measure A1, a 2016 affordable housing bond that includes $50 million in down-payment assistance. The program is meant to give low- and middle-income prospective homebuyers a chance in a market where cash buyers and investors often dominate. 

This round, the county will distribute loans of up to $210,000 each, to up to 70 households—or a total of $12 million.

“AC Boost unlocks the opportunity for more working households to build home equity, put down roots in the community, and have a place their family can call home for years to come,” said Keith Carson, president of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, in a press release.

The loans are zero-interest and do not require payment during the 30-year term.

To qualify for the program, you must meet a few basic criteria. You must be currently living or working in Alameda County, or have recently been displaced from it. This must be the first house you’ll have owned. And you must make under 120% of the area median income, which is $150,700 for a four-person household, $120,550 for two people, and $105,500 for an individual. (See all eligibility requirements.)

You can complete a short, pre-application online by the Aug. 30 deadline, then you’ll receive a random lottery number determining when you can attend a required workshop and complete a more thorough application. Additional preference is given to educators and first responders. Approved applicants get 120 days to enter into a contract to buy a home. 

Program administrators say AC Boost is designed to remove systemic barriers to home-buying for communities of color, including racist lending practices that have contributed to a large racial wealth gap locally and across the U.S. 

“Discriminatory practices in housing and access to credit have opened the door to some families to accrue intergenerational wealth, while completely shutting others out,” said Jennifer Duffy, president of Hello Housing, an affordable housing developer, in a press release. “Many aspiring homebuyers just can’t save enough for a down payment because too much of their paycheck goes to rent.” 

There are ways for lenders, real estate agents, and sellers to participate in the program as well. If you’re putting your house on the market in Alameda County and want to sell to a local, first-time homebuyer, you can contact the program to get connected with an AC Boost loan recipient. 

The city of Oakland offers a homebuyer assistance program too, but it’s currently suspended, according to the city website. 

Natalie Orenstein covers housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. She was previously on staff at Berkeleyside, where her extensive reporting on the legacy of school desegregation received recognition from the Society of Professional Journalists NorCal and the Education Writers Association. Natalie’s reporting has also appeared in The J Weekly, The San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere, and she’s written about public policy for a number of research institutes and think tanks. Natalie lives in Oakland, grew up in Berkeley, and has only left her beloved East Bay once, to attend Pomona College.