A new housing assistance program offers up to $7,500 in down payment assistance to qualified home buyers.

The Escambia County Housing Finance Authority (Authority), Franklin County Board of County Commissioners and lending partner, Centennial Bank, have announced that Government (FHA, VA and Rural Development) and the Freddie Mac Conventional Loan Programs are now available to assist eligible first-time homebuyers, veterans, and former homeowners with purchasing homes in Franklin County.

The implementation of these programs in Franklin County was approved by commissioners on Oct. 17.

The Authority provides low-interest home mortgage loans together with zero percent down payment assistance loans of up to $7,500 for qualified borrowers earning not more than applicable program income limits, which are $59,280 for individuals and families of two, or $68,500 for families of three or more.

At the Oct. 17 meeting, Ricky Wilkerson, Authority spokesman, told commissioners the program, initiated in 1982, had formerly served Franklin County but ceased operations here during the real estate downturn of 2008.

The Authority seeks to alleviate the shortage of affordable homes and make homeownership dreams come true for Florida’s workforce. The Authority has placed more than $119 million in first mortgage loans for more than 1,095 families since 2012.

He said the Authority provides assistance in 16 Florida counties, including Franklin, at no cost to county government. He said the assistance can be applied to both new and existing structures.

First-time homebuyers, or veterans and realtors selling a home to a first-time homebuyer can call (850) 432-7077 or check out the website (www.escambiahfa.com) to see how the program can assist. Carrie Johnson, of Centennial Bank, is certified to provide guidance and information about the program. She can be reached at 653-2302.

First-time homeowners are defined under Authority programs as persons who have not owned a house for three years.

Borrowers must meet normal mortgage requirements to demonstrate good credit and must have a minimum FICO score of 640 to qualify for FDA, USDA and VA loans. Purchased properties must be occupied as the homeowner’s principal residence.

Qualified veterans and homebuyers purchasing in some designated areas may not need to be first-time owners, however, no targeted areas have been designated for Franklin County.