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      Home loan program extended to police, fire, ems workers

      A program designed to provide low-interest loans to teachers who are first-time home buyers has been expanded to include law enforcement officers, firefighters and first-responder emergency medical staff.

      The South Carolina State Housing Finance and Development Authority ( said the $40 million "Palmetto Heroes" program is aimed at first-time home buyers and will include help with down payments up to $7,000. An initial loan pool of $20 million, aimed exclusively at helping teachers, was completely obligated just two months after it was announced in April 2008.

      "We had 170 teachers take advantage of the first round of loans," said State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex. "This expansion will offer opportunities to an even larger group of critically important and extremely dedicated public servants whose salaries are moderate, at best."

      Palmetto Heroes is available to teachers, law enforcement officers, firefighters and EMS personnel who are currently certified in their profession, and reside and work in South Carolina or have a contract to begin working here within 60 days of closing on a home.

      Eligible Palmetto Heroes home buyers can get a 5.125 percent interest rate through SC State Housing's First-time Home Buyer Program, as well as a down payment assistance loan of up to $7,000 that could be forgivable over time, depending on the borrower's income.

      Palmetto Heroes may include a grant from South Carolina Realtors (, to help each of the first 300 participants with incidentals associated with purchasing a home.

      Mortgage loans can be up to 30 years and are available through any of SC State Housing's network of more than 200 participating private sector lenders and brokers statewide. Maximum income limits are based on the median income per county and household composition. The Palmetto Heroes Program may not be used for refinancing.

      For more information, contact a Realtor or SC State Housing at 1-800-432-5007 or visit the agency's web site (

      SC State Housing officials hope the term "first-time" will not discourage potential home buyers because the definition is broad. For example, in 34 targeted counties (Abbeville, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Beaufort, Berkeley, Calhoun, Charleston, Cherokee, Chester, Chesterfield, Clarendon, Colleton, Darlington, Dillon, Dorchester, Edgefield, Fairfield, Florence, Georgetown, Hampton, Horry, Jasper, Kershaw, Laurens, Lee, McCormick, Marion, Marlboro, Newberry, Orangeburg, Saluda, Sumter, Union and Williamsburg), the provision is waived altogether as long as buyers don't have title to another home when they close on a new loan.

      Even in non-targeted counties (Aiken, Anderson, Charleston, Greenwood, Greenville, Lancaster, Lexington, Oconee, Pickens, Richland, Spartanburg and York), a first-time home buyer will be someone who has not owned a home in the last three years. Also, buyers moving from a non-targeted area into a targeted area may qualify so long as they do not own a home at time of closing and meet the other qualifications for home price and family income.

      SC State Housing is a self-supporting agency of state government and does not receive a state appropriation.