Bipartisan effort to help first responders, teachers get big boost from Rep. Lawson

Samuel Royer

From armed battles on the other side of the globe to terror attacks on our own soil, America is no stranger to turbulent times. 

For over two centuries, we have counted on brave individuals who rise to the occasion to protect our country and our communities, whether overseas or at home. This time, the enemy is a virus. For the past 21 months, police officers, firefighters, paramedics and teachers have put their personal health and the health of their loved ones on the line so they can serve their communities amidst one of the largest pandemics in history. 

Despite continuing to show up for others each and every day, these frontline heroes are getting crushed by skyrocketing housing prices, leaving them seemingly out of affordable housing options. America’s best are drowning and we can’t leave them behind.

Congressman Al Lawson understands the boundless value that first responders and teachers provide to Florida’s communities. He appreciates the sacrifices they make every day, especially in the face of COVID-19. That’s why he has chosen to lead as one of four original sponsors for the Homes for Every Local Protector, Educator and Responder (HELPER) Act. This common-sense legislation is now supported by more than three dozen Republican and Democratic lawmakers from every corner of the country and is desperately needed for the hour we are presently in.

According to the latest Case-Shiller index, year-over-year home prices recently surged by almost 20 percent, with the median price now at an all-time high. However, Tallahassee police had to negotiate for months to get a contract with no pay raises this year and only a 2 percent pay raise in both 2022 and 2023. No wonder this largely forgotten class of first-time buyers is essentially boxed out of the housing market. 

It’s time for these homefront heroes, who have continued to serve during the pandemic, to enjoy access to the American Dream of affordable homeownership. The HELPER Act would help make that idea a reality, creating a viable path for frontline workers to build wealth for themselves and a better future for their families.

Originally introduced in the House by Lawson, Rep. John Rutherford (R-FL), Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Rep. John Katko (R-NY), and since followed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Jon Ossoff’s (D-Ga.) companion bill in the Senate, this game-changing bipartisan legislation would eliminate down payment requirements and offer 100 percent financing for one-time home purchases for buyers who fall within one of the frontline hero categories: police and corrections officers, firefighters, paramedics and EMTs, and preK-12 teachers. 

Passage would mean that if a young firefighter or a middle school teacher wants to purchase a moderately priced home, they would receive a loan to finance the entire purchase price.

Another key measure of the HELPER Act is the elimination of monthly mortgage insurance premium requirements. Under the normal FHA system, most homebuyers who cannot afford a 20 percent down payment must pay a monthly insurance premium and an upfront cost. A $200,000 home, for example, would normally require a monthly premium of $140. Under the HELPER Act, this additional monthly cost is eliminated. 

Not only does this legislation save homebuyers significant amounts of money, but it would be low risk for the federal government; loss only occurs if the homebuyer defaults into foreclosure. Because first responders and teachers are dedicated public servants employed in stable, often career-lasting jobs, the odds of this happening are minimal.

Congressman Lawson understands the importance of this moment, and I applaud him for his support in turning this common-sense idea into a legislative reality. As the national director for Heroes First Home Loans and a Marine Corps veteran, I know that our first responders and teachers deserve the same access to affordable housing that our veterans do. These brave first responders and educators deserve to live in the same communities in which they serve without the excessive financial burdens imposed by ballooning housing costs. 

These home front heroes have already sacrificed so much, and they have earned their slice of the American Dream. Let’s ensure they receive it. 

Samuel P. Royer is the national director for Heroes First Home Loans.