(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — Becoming a homeowner can be a daunting task. There’s the hurdles of debt, savings, down payments, closing costs to begin the process, followed by upkeep, emergencies, taxes, appraisals. For some, the initial hurdles seem insurmountable (how do you save for a down payment while paying off debts and still paying rent, for example), and once those are overcome, the cost of maintaining and owning a home seems well out of reach.

A program in Erie could help.

The Genesis Home Program through the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network aims to help those who dream of owning a home make it a reality.

Here’s essentially how it works: A qualified candidate applies to and is accepted into the Genesis Home Program. They rent a home from Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network at well below market value (Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network Executive Director Heather May Caspar suggested a difference of a $900 per month apartment being rented for about $450 per month). While renting, the candidates follow a curriculum that helps them save money, pay down debts, and prepare to own a home. When the candidate completes the program in some 2 to 4 years, they will have everything they need to purchase a home of their own.

And there’s icing on the proverbial Genesis cake — For every month that they pay rent while in the program, $100 is earmarked to help with closing costs if they buy a home within a Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network (SSJNN) neighborhood. Further, the Genesis Home Program pairs homebuyers with banks that will match at least a portion of that earmarked closing cost funding.

“That’s a gift that we give to program participants at the end of the program,” Caspar said.

If the homebuyer chooses to buy a house in, say, Millcreek, they would not receive that gift at the end of the program. But they still would have benefitted greatly from being part of the program.

“If they move to Millcreek, they still would have received all of the services and education provided by the Genesis Home Program,” Caspar explained. “Equally important is that we provide quality homes at an affordable rent that’s well below market rent so they can pay off their debt and get on top of their budgets.”

The program is limited by inventory — buying a home is an expensive endeavor, even for a large nonprofit like SSJNN. Currently, the program can host a total of nine families at any given time. In 2023, Caspar said, SSJNN hopes secure an additional two units for a total of 11 participating families. The program began about 10 years ago.

“When we have a family that moves out, it gives us an opportunity to do some work on the apartment to get it ready for the next family, but it’s also good news that someone has moved out and moved into a new home,” Caspar said. “And it’s good news that we have a slot for somebody who wants to start into the program and begin the process of becoming a homeowner.”

Currently, there are two vacancies in the program. To qualify, candidates must have an annual total household income between $30,000 and $35,000. Candidate must also have a credit score of at least 600. A brochure is available on the SSJ website. For an appointment or for additional information, call Sister Phyllis Hilbert of SSJ at (814) 454-7814 extension 203, or Kyle Blackmer at (814) 454-7814 extension 204.

“They almost must have the ability and willingness to save toward a down payment and to participate fully in the program,” Caspar added.

For prospective homeowners who don’t meet the requirements to apply for the Genesis Home Program, Caspar said to contact SSJNN and they’ll point them in the direction of services to help get them on the path of qualifying.