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Chhaya program to offer forgivable home loans

A Jackson Heights-based nonprofit is the latest group to offer a major incentive to homebuyers through the city Housing Preservation and Development Department.

Chhaya CDC, a group dedicated to helping South Asians with home ownership issues since 2000, was certified by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development last year, paving the way for it to help usher clients entry into the city’s assistance programs.

The program offers new homebuyers a forgivable loan of up to 6 percent of the purchasing cost of the home as long as they live there for 10 years and take at least 10 hours of homebuyer education classes like the ones Chhaya offers.

“This is a great resource that has been in existence in the city for a while and really our local communities haven’t taken advantage of it,” Chhaya Executive Director Seema Agnani said.

Michael Abel, who directs the HPD program, said it has gone from facilitating nine home purchases seven years ago to more than 270 last year in the

“It’s a very good program,” he said, noting the city works directly with banks to avoid mortgage brokers. “It’s very, very simple.”

But Queens still lags behind Brooklyn and the Bronx in terms of residents taking advantage of the incentive, Abel said.

“We were a little light in Queens, so this is very, very good that we have someone in central Queens that is doing this for us,” he said of Chhaya.

Afreem Alam, who manages Chhaya’s five-part workshops on home buying, said the key is to get people to sit down and crunch the numbers based on their credit and income levels.

“When they first come in, some people have a lot of ideas of what kind of house they want to buy and some people have no clue,” she said. “Most of them by the end of the series change their mind on what they were going to do.

About 160 people have completed the home ownership courses since Chhaya started them a year and a half ago, although Alam said many of them held off on buying until late in 2009.

These days most South Asians looking to buy homes are focusing the most on Bellerose and St. Albans, Chhaya staff said.

“A little further out, but Jackson Heights still continues to be a big point of interest, especially for co-ops or condos,” Alam said.

The next Chhaya home ownership workshop is scheduled for Jan. 31. For more information, call 718-478-3848.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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