Jenna Bozzi, a 25-year-old first-time buyer, is just the sort of person housing economists see as critical to stimulating local real estate markets but who often lacks the upfront money to do so.

Her real estate agent suggested that she might qualify for financial help in buying her first house.

"The lender we were working with" told her and agent Linda Pietrzak, of Century 21 Leibovitz, about NeighborhoodLift, a program designed to boost homeownership in the city, Bozzi said.

So they contacted New Kensington Community Development Corp., which runs the matching down-payment assistance program here for NeighborWorks America, a national housing-opportunity organization.

After demonstrating that she met the qualifications for a mortgage and completing a mandatory home-buyers education program - eight hours in class or 10 hours online - Bozzi, an account manager at Streamline6 Communication in Philadelphia, closed on a $175,000 three-bedroom, 11/2-bath rowhouse in Old Richmond on Dec. 31.

The $15,000 she received toward her down payment "let me use my money to fix up the house," she said.

The funding available to Bozzi was part of $11.3 million that Wells Fargo provided in 2012 for low- and moderate-income buyers in Philadelphia. Thus far, 469 buyers have received $15,000 grants to help them become homeowners, said Lorie Meyer, New Kensington's assistant director of housing services.

Philadelphia is one of 42 communities around the country to receive funding from Wells Fargo that has helped 11,250 people buy houses, said Chris Holloway, the lender's area sales manager.

Meyer said Bozzi's grant came from money left over from the 2012 funding, which became available last fall to provide grants to 79 more buyers.

This year, Wells Fargo is providing $5 million for NeighborhoodLift. To apply for the matching grants, said Sandy Salzman, New Kensington's executive director, 504 Philadelphians already have pre-registered for a free event set for 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. April 1 and 2 at the Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown Hotel, 201 N. 17th St.

"This means that all the available appointment times are filled out," Salzman said, "and while walk-ins are welcome, they will need to show up early [April 1] morning."

Details are available at 866-858-2151 or NeighborhoodLift.com.

Although New Kensington, as Philadelphia's only NeighborWorks America network member, is in charge of the program, people from every part of the city are eligible to apply, Salzman said.

Since Bozzi received her NeighborhoodLift funding, the program has changed, with buyers now eligible for matching down-payment assistance grants ranging from $2,500 to $7,500, based on the applicant's contribution, Wells Fargo's Holloway said.

Annual incomes must not exceed 80 percent of the Philadelphia County area median income, which is $64,900 for a family of four, Salzman said, although veterans, active military, and surviving spouses can qualify at the full area median of $81,000.

Grants may be combined with other down-payment assistance programs, and buyers can obtain mortgages from any qualified lender, Holloway said.

Eligible home buyers must qualify for a first mortgage on the property and complete the counseling session with New Kensington or another agency approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Approved buyers will have up to 60 days to finalize a contract to purchase a house and must commit to living in the house for three years.

Bozzi, who had already found her house before she applied for the grant program, thought the buying process was "relatively painless."

"I was lucky to find a good Realtor, and my mom had been a landlord for about 30 years, so I came in with a lot of knowledge," she said. "My experiences with counseling were good, and New Kensington helped guide me through the process."

"My only regret is I wish I had bought here 10 years sooner," she said, reflecting on rising prices in the neighborhood.

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