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Hometown Heroes Loan Program: Learn How to Get up to a $25,000 Grant in Bay County, Florida

If you are a frontline worker serving Bay County, Florida, you can now apply for the Hometown Heroes Housing Program to become a new homeowner. The Hometown Heroes initiative launched this week aims to help critical workers afford a place to live in the areas they serve.

The widely inclusive program is available to hometown heroes in more than 50 critical professions, including law enforcement, military, healthcare, education, and childcare.

In partnership with various approved Participating Lenders, Florida Housing is currently offering first-time homebuyer mortgage products and down payment and closing cost assistance second mortgage programs. If you are eligible and interested in purchasing your first home in Bay County, the Hometown Heroes Housing Program can offer much-needed financial assistance.

In northern Florida, Bay County is known for its lively cities and beautiful beach views. To afford a medium-priced home in Florida, you need to earn about $62,000 per year. This figure is well above the median household income for Bay County residents meaning many hometown heroes are priced out of the homes where they serve. The Hometown Heroes Loan Program looks to remedy this.


The Hometown Heroes Housing Program

Florida already has several housing programs that help critical workers, the backbone of their communities, buy their first homes. The Hometown Heroes Housing Program aims to expand this financial assistance so that the men and women serving communities can afford primary residences in those communities.

The financial assistance is offered through Florida Housing’s The Bond Alternative (TBA) Program. The program makes owning a home in Bay County affordable for frontline emergency workers, military personnel, and educators through a lower first mortgage rate, among other benefits. This loan program only considers your income and first-time homebuyer status.


First Mortgage Program

The Hometown Heroes program enables you to receive lower than market rates on different types of first mortgage programs, including Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Rural Development (RD), Veteran Affairs (VA), Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac first mortgages. The FHA, RD, and VA loans represent Florida Housing’s First Time Homebuyer Programs that offer a 30-year fixed rate.

The Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loan options offer reduced cost, charter level, and mortgage insurance if you earn below 80% of the area median income (AMI). If you qualify for these mortgage loans, you automatically qualify for down payment assistance. Further, you also benefit from lower upfront fees and no origination or discount points.

To be eligible for the Hometown Heroes Housing Program, you must first connect with a participating loan officer, have a minimum credit score of 640, provide certification for your occupation, and meet the program’s income threshold for Bay County. You must also attend a program-approved homebuyer education course satisfying standards defined by Housing and Urban Development.

The maximum 2022 Hometown Heroes Income Limit requirement for Bay County is $118,950, adjusted for household size. Also, the contracted purchase price of your home should not exceed the Purchase Price Limits in Bay County.

The 2022 maximum Hometown Heroes loan limit for Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development (USDA-RD) loans in Bay County is $420,680. The maximum loan limit for Housing Finance Agency (HFA) Preferred, HFA Advantage, and VA loans in Bay County is $647,200.


5% Second Mortgage Loan

The Hometown Heroes Loan Program also offers down payment and closing cost assistance in a 5% second mortgage. You can receive up to 5% of the loan amount not to exceed $25,000. The $25,000 grant comes in the form of a non-amortizing, 30-year deferred mortgage.

To be eligible for the grant, you must earn less than the Hometown Heroes Income Limit requirement for Bay County, $118,950. Your household income is not considered. The grant is eligible with the FHA, VA, USDA-RD, HFA Preferred, and HFA Advantage first mortgage programs. The first mortgage loan programs determine the maximum loan amount.

You can only use the grant to cover the down payment and reasonable, customary closing costs. Repayment of the loan is deferred except when you sell your home, refinance your first mortgage, or if the home is no longer your primary residence.

To participate in the Hometown Heroes Housing Program, you must be currently a full-time employee of an eligible occupation in a position where your certification or license is held. To support your occupational eligibility, you must provide a copy of your State of Florida certification or license, a copy of Verification of Employment (VOE), and a Florida Hometown Heroes Loan Program attestation. You must also complete a program-approved homebuyer education course.


What Occupations are Eligible for Participation?


Law Enforcement and Correctional Officers

  • FL Department of Corrections – Sworn Law Enforcement Office, Certified Correction Officer, and Correctional Probation Officer.

  • FL Department of Juvenile Justice – Juvenile Detention Officer and Juvenile Probation Officer.

First Responders

  • FL Division of State Fire Marshal – Firefighter

  • FL Department of Health – Certified Paramedic, 911 Public Safety Communicator, and Certified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).

US Military Members

  • Active Military Personnel and Veterans

Educators

  • FL Department of Education – Certified Educator including teacher, school counselor, social worker, librarian, school psychologist, and career specialist.

Childcare Workers

  • FL Department of Children & Families – Licensed Childcare Operator (Childcare facility owner) and Childcare Instructor.

Health Care and Social Care Professionals

  • FL Board of Medicine – Health Care Practitioners including Physician, Physician Assistant, Certified Medical Assistants, and Anesthesiologist.

  • FL Board of Nursing – Registered Nurse, Licensed Practical Nurse, Certified Nursing Assistant, Nursing Home Administrator.

  • FL Department of Health – Certified Nurse Midwife, Licensed Nutritionist or Dietician, Licensed Nutrition Counselor, Electrologist, Licensed Medical Physicist, Certified X-Ray Machine Operator, Certified Radiologic Technologist, Certified General Radiographer.

  • FL Board of Psychology – Psychologist.
  • FL Board of Pharmacy – Pharmacist, Pharmacy Technician.
  • FL Board of Dentistry – Dentist and Dental Hygienist.
  • FL Board of Opticianry – Optician.

  • FL Board of Physical Therapy – Physical Therapist and Physical Therapist Assistant.

  • FL Board of Acupuncture – Acupuncturist.
  • FL Board of Chiropractic Medicine – Chiropractic Physician.
  • FL Board of Podiatric Medicine – Podiatric Physician.

  • FL Board of Orthotists & Prosthetists – Prosthetist, Orthotist, and Orthotic Fitter

  • FL Agency for Health Care Administration – Home Health Aide.

  • FL Board of Clinical Laboratory Personnel – Clinical Lab Personnel and Phlebotomist.

  • FL Board of Veterinary Medicine – Veterinarian and Veterinarian Technician/Assistant.

  • FL Board of Clinical Social Work – Mental Health Counselor, Clinical Social Worker, and Marriage & Family Therapist.

  • FL Board of Speech-Language Pathology & Audiology – Speech Language Pathologist/Audiologist and their assistants.

  • FL Board of Hearing Aid Specialists – Hearing Aid Specialist
  • FL Board of Physical Therapy – Physical Therapist and their assistant.
  • FL Board of Massage Therapy – Massage Therapist

The Cost of Living in Bay County, Florida

The residents of Bay County enjoy a relatively low cost of living. According to BestPlaces, the overall cost of living index for Bay County is 96.1. The index is based on the US average of 100 and represents a comprehensive analysis of the affordability of an area.

This means living in Bay County is cheaper compared to the national average. The University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research states that the Price Level Index of Bay County is 95.57. This index is also based on a scale of 100, meaning it’s lower than other counties or communities of similar size and population in Florida.

Several factors are considered when assessing the cost of living in Bay County. The assessment considers housing, food, fuel, median tax rates, etc.

Several values are used to come up with the cost-of-living index, including median home value, home value to income ratio, median rent, monthly housing cost to income ratio, median effective property tax, rent to income ratio, Consumer Price Index(gas and groceries), and state tax share.

Based on these and other factors, the places with the lowest cost of living in Bay County in 2022, according to Niche rankings, include Cedar Grove, Pretty Bayou, Parker, Springfield, Callaway, and Panama City.


Shoreline of Panama City Beach at sunset in Florida


The Best Places to Buy a Home in Bay County

When assessing the best places to buy a home in Bay County, you have to consider the county’s housing market, home values, crime rates, property taxes, and quality of local schools. The annual Niche rankings look at these and other factors that help determine the quality and stability of Bay County’s real estate market. Below are the best places to purchase a home in Bay County based on the 2022 Niche Rankings.


Pretty Bayou

Pretty Bayou is a census-designated place (CDP) part of the Panama City – Lynn Haven- Panama City Beach Metropolitan Statistical Area. It is highly ranked as one of the best places to reside in Bay County and Florida.

Pretty Bayou is home to about 3,330 residents who own their homes. The median home value is around $255,000. The area has a private suburban, and the rural mix feels to it and is served by an excellent public school system.


Lynn Haven

Lynn Haven is a city situated along Florida State Road 77 and north of Panama City. This vibrant small business community is one of the best places in Bay County to live and raise a family. Lynn Haven prides itself as a family-oriented, walkable community.

As a resident, you are afforded an intimate suburban feel. Most of the 21,000 residents are primarily families and young professionals and own their homes. The median home value is about $200,000.


Cedar Grove

Cedar Grove is a CDP and unincorporated area part of the Panama City – Lynn Haven- Panama City Beach Metropolitan Statistical Area. It is home to around 3,400 residents.

Cedar Grove is ranked among the best places to live in Bay County. It has a sparse suburban quality, and the majority of the residents own their homes, with the median home value being $82,500.


Panama City Beach

Not to be confused with Panama City, Panama City Beach is a resort town on the Gulf of Mexico coast (Northwest Florida) known for the world’s most beautiful white sandy beaches. Home to about 13,000 residents, Panama City Beach, is a top-rated vacation destination.

This area has an urban feel with numerous amenities, including restaurants, bars, recreational parks, beaches, and coffee shops. The median home value in Panama City Beach is around $243,000, and most residents own their homes.


Upper Grand Lagoon

Upper Grand Lagoon is a CDP part of the Panama City – Lynn Haven- Panama City Beach Metropolitan Statistical Area. Around 18,000 residents call Upper Grand Lagoon home, with most owning their homes. The median home value is $229,000. Upper Grand Lagoon is a dense suburban locale with many restaurants and bars, making it attractive to young professionals.


Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach is also a CDP part of the Panama City – Lynn Haven- Panama City Beach Metropolitan Statistical Area. Named after the city of the same name in California, Laguna Beach is home to about 4,500 residents.

It is one of the best places to live in Bay County, with a dense suburban feel that many retirees find attractive. Laguna Beach has numerous amenities, including restaurants, bars, recreational parks, and coffee shops. The median home value is $237,000, and most residents own their homes.


Panama City

Panama City Beach is the county seat and largest city in Bay County, with a population of about 37,000 residents. Situated along the Emerald Coast within the Florida Panhandle, Panama City is a dense suburban locale with most residents (families and young professionals) owning their homes. The median home value is about $156,000.


The Best Schools (Public and Private) in Bay County

Bay District Schools, headquartered in Panama City, operates the public schools in Bay County apart from Mexico Beach (served by Gulf County Schools). The school district serves more than 26,000 students in grades PK, K-12 across 53 schools and has a student-teacher ratio of 17 to 1. The best public schools in Bay County include:


High Schools

  • A. Crawford Mosley High School
  • J.R Arnold High School
  • Bay High School
  • Deane Bozeman School
  • Rutherford High School

Middle and Elementary Schools

  • Rising Leaders Academy
  • University Academy
  • Bay Haven Charter Academy Middle School
  • Surfside Middle School
  • North Bay Haven Charter Academy Elementary School
  • Patronis Elementary School

Pre-K Schools

  • Tyndall Elementary School
  • Merriam Cherry Street Elementary School
  • Lynn Haven Elementary School
  • Deane Bozeman School

The best private schools in Bay County, Florida, include:

  • Panama City Advanced School
  • Holy Nativity Episcopal School
  • Adventist Christian Academy
  • Bacot Academy
  • Covenant Christian School
  • Eagle Nest Christian Academy

Raising Your Family in Bay County

Bay County is one of the best places to raise a family in Florida. A large portion of the nearly 60,000 households in the county represent families (married couples with at least one child living with them). With many people moving into the county each year, a lot goes into consideration if you want to set down roots in Bay County.

One of the attractive factors of Bay County is the tropical ambiance and climate and access to beaches and other amenities your whole family can enjoy. The winters are short and mild, allowing your family to enjoy warm, sunny weather through most of the year. This means more outdoor activities, which are plenty in Bay County.

A strong job market and short commute make Bay County an attractive place to stay for many Floridians. The cost of living in Bay County, including housing, utilities, food, and fuel/transportation, is also low compared to other counties in Florida. Bay County also has a highly rated public school system.

Your children will get an academic head start in this county with many great options. The rising student population is a testament to this. If you decide to purchase a home in Bay County through the Hometown Heroes Loan Program, the best areas to raise your family include Lynn Haven, Pretty Bayou, Upper Grand Lagoon, Panama City Beach, and Cedar Grove.


The Advantages/Benefits of Bay County for Young Professionals

Key factors that entice young professionals to move to an area include job opportunities, a sizeable youth population, affordable housing, and access to amenities, including restaurants and bars. The good news is that Bay County checks all of those boxes and more.

Since the job market disruption witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic, the employment rates in Bay County have experienced significant growth. According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity data, the Bay County unemployment rates have dropped from 13% in 2020 to 2.9% in 2022. This upswing means more employers are actively hiring and are projected to continue hiring as the global crisis wanes.

Bay County also has several programs, such as Bay Young Professionals(BYP), to assist young professionals. BYP helps connect and develop young professionals through various educational, networking, and social activities.


List of Eligible Cities, Towns, and Communities in Bay County

  • Callaway
  • Lynn Haven
  • Mexico Beach
  • Panama City
  • Panama City Beach
  • Parker
  • Springfield
  • Cedar Grove
  • Laguna Beach
  • Lower Grand Lagoon
  • Pretty Bayou
  • Tyndall AFB
  • Upper Grand Lagoon
  • Fountain
  • Glenwood
  • Millville
  • Sand Hills
  • Santa Monica
  • Southport
  • Sunnyside
  • Vicksburg
  • Youngstown

Conclusion

Overall, the Hometown Heroes Housing Program aims to help many frontline workers, first responders, and educators achieve the American dream of owning a home. As an eligible hometown hero in Bay County, you should be able to afford a primary residence in the areas that you work and diligently serve. The Hometown Heroes Loan Program represents a significant step towards appreciating and giving back to you, who sacrifice and sometimes put your lives at risk to ensure the continuity of your communities.

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