The Yale Homebuyer Program, a key component of Yale’s partnership with its hometown of New Haven, marks its 20th anniversary this year. The university’s trustees recently renewed the program, first announced in April 1994, for another two-year cycle, through Dec. 31, 2015.
The program has developed a strong reputation on campus and beyond, according to Scott Kramer, who works in the Yale Development Office. Kramer is one of the recent homebuyers YaleNews contacted recently to get their perspectives on the program and the city.
“I heard about it frequently and glowingly from others when I first moved here,” he says. “It’s one of the first things I mention when people ask me about working at Yale.” The Yale Homebuyer Program is “a terrific benefit,” he adds.
Yale’s benefit program reflects the university’s commitment to its host community, a place celebrated by President Peter Salovey — himself a longtime city resident — in his Inaugural Address as “part of what makes Yale a special place for teaching and learning: the City of New Haven.”
Since the homebuyer program began in 1994, New Haven’s reputation and reality have changed — a transformation cited recently in the media. “New Haven’s Happening” read a banner headline in the New York Daily News on September 13, 2013. The Washington Post called New Haven a place “that has come into its own” in a story on Jan. 16, 2014, which described New Haven as “a city with Boston’s historic charm, Philadelphia’s artistic pleasures — and Buffalo’s beer prices.”
Many attracted by city's vitality
Faculty and staff who have purchased homes in New Haven cite the city’s vitality as part of their decision to move here. Leah Ferrucci, who first came to New Haven more than a decade ago as a graduate student in the Yale School of Public Health and now works at the school as an associate research scientist, says “New Haven is a vibrant city that provides everything we could need in a compact and friendly environment.” Mark Temelko of the Yale Law School’s public affairs office lives in Fair Haven with his wife, a graduate student in African American and American studies, and their two young boys. “We feel super lucky to be part of a diverse and engaged community,” he says.
“The richness of the arts and culture, the scholarly environment of the university, and the diverse community of the city” are among New Haven’s strengths, notes Martina Droth, associate director of research and curator of sculpture in the Yale Center for British Art. Katie Darr, assistant director of Yale College annual giving in the Development Office, appreciates that “it’s a diverse city with history and character.” Associate Professor of Psychology Laurie Santos says simply, “I adore living in New Haven,” and Dr. J. Lance Lichtor, professor of anesthesiology and pediatrics, also asserts: “New Haven is a great place to live.”
Since it began 20 years ago, the Homebuyer Program has helped 1,084 Yale faculty and staff to buy their homes in New Haven. Open to any permanent university employee working 20 or hours or more a week, the program gives an annual income benefit to those who purchase a home to own and occupy in target areas in the city. It 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 the home and remain employed by Yale.
Purchases in a broad area 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 by any university-sponsored homeownership programs in the nation, and the $30,000 benefit over 10 years is the most generous incentive among peer programs.
Interest in the program has been strong across Yale’s various job families. Since 1994, 29% of the homebuyers have been members of the faculty, 27% management and professional staff, 31% clerical and technical staff, and 13% service and maintenance staff.
More than two-thirds are first-time homebuyers
Well over two-thirds of all participants are first-time homebuyers. Some are new employees just moving to New Haven, while others have been living in the city for many years, often as renters. Suzanne Noruschat, an architectural records archivist in the University Library, is a “southern California transplant” who has been at Yale for two years. She likes New Haven’s walkability and says Yale’s benefit helped “make my decision to buy much more attractive and appealing.”
May Brantley, an office assistant in the Theater Studies Department, reports, “this program is one of the reasons I never moved out of New Haven.” Yale’s program is “not just another homebuyer program,” she notes, but also offers “workshops and seminars where they can answer all your questions, so when you go out to buy, you are well educated.”
Susan West, associate director for strategic communications in Information Technology Services, concurs: “As a first-time homebuyer, the classes provided a wealth of information about the home-buying process, and introduction to various professionals and experts through the classes proved extremely valuable throughout our search and purchasing process.” Echoing a refrain heard from many employees, Rebecca Corbett, a senior administrative in dermopathology at the School of Medicine, says, “Yale’s homebuyer program enabled me to get the American dream.”
Other recent participants agree the financial assistance offered through the Yale Homebuyer Program made a real difference in their decision and ability to buy a home in New Haven. “The first year ‘bonus’ allowed me to buy in my desired neighborhood,” says Craig Canfield, senior administrative assistant in Women’s Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies. He adds, “The Yale Homebuyer Program was the primary reason for buying a home in New Haven. I was looking at other nearby towns, but the program provided the money to make it possible in New Haven.” Sarah Hreha, who works in the Development Office as executive director of the Gruber Foundation, “was considering others towns until the program swayed me” to buy in the city.
Amy Gosztyla, head coach of women’s cross country, says “having help with a down payment made the process of buying our first home go very smoothly.” Ferrucci also notes that the first-year bonus payment the program offers was a “welcome cushion for unexpected repairs or extra renovations in our first year of homeownership.”
Many Yale faculty and staff who have taken part in the program say they have become even more involved in local civic affairs now that they are homeowners. West is one of them. She says, “Because of my work at Yale, my community is inherently New Haven, and my wife and I were committed to fully investing in this community. We chose to live in the city that we work in, so that we might give back to and benefit from the conveniences the city provides.”
Closeness to campus cited as a plus
Living in New Haven, and nearby campus, offers numerous advantages, according to Emily Ferrigno, a public services assistant in the music library, who has “become more active in the community” and says she loves “the fact that I don’t have to commute to work.” John Parejko, associate research scientist in physics, likes “walking (from our house!) to the farmer’s market in Wooster Square and picking up a Pepe’s pizza for a lunch in the park” as well as “walking to the various concerts on the Green.” Laura Morrison of the Yale Cancer Center and School of Nursing appreciates being able “to shift from a car-dependent lifestyle previously to one based much on walking and using the Yale Shuttle.” She adds that living in the city offers “personal activity and health, financial, and environmental” benefits.
Thania Sanchez says that she and her husband likewise enjoy being city residents: “We love living close to campus and walking distance from many activities. From parks, to the farmer's market, to the public and Yale libraries and museums, we're always just steps from it all. Everything is within minutes from our front door. We also love the sense community in our neighborhood.”
Josh Galperin, associate director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy, puts it this way: “The Homebuyer Program made living in New Haven an easy decision for my wife and me … we are also close to all the other benefits of the city: food, theater, sports, and so forth. These things might seem trivial at first, but they make our personal time more enjoyable and our time at work more efficient. Living only one mile from work, I can drive without the worry of traffic or just as easily walk.”
“Why would I turn down a great home and money from Yale just to live farther away in a place with less to do?” adds Galperin.