Tompkins County Homeownership Program

Better Housing administers the Tompkins County Homeownership Program, which provides education, homebuyer counseling, and financial assistance to make a first home an achievable dream for many families. We offer our participants funds applied toward a down payment and closing costs. Since 1993, this program has helped over 350 low-to-moderate-income families and individuals purchase the places they now call home.

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Attorney Katrina Thaler-Medeiros looks on as Dan and Polly sign documents marking the 250th home closing with assistance provided by the Tompkins County Homeownership Program. They were “ecstatic” to find their perfect home. Contact us to find out how we can assist you.

How the Program Works

What we cover: This program provides assistance with down payment and closing costs, up to 30% of the total. The maximum financial assistance is $30,000. We also provide a home inspection before purchase at no charge to you.

What you cover: Clients must provide a minimum of $1,500 or 2% of the purchase price (whichever is greater) of their own funds for the home purchase. These funds cannot be gifts; you must demonstrate the savings. You must be able to obtain a first mortgage for the remainder of the purchase price from a local lending institution

Home price: We determine each client’s maximum approved price based on their financial situation. The program’s current limit is $150,000.

Timing: At a minimum, you should be prepared for the house purchase process to take approximately three months. House purchases and clients are required to be approved by the TCHOP Oversight Committee, which meets monthly.

Selling the home: If you move before the program mortgage is paid off or diminished, it will be paid off at the time of sale.

Home Eligibility

We cannot assist with purchasing a home for which you already submitted a purchase offer before entering the program. Properties may be purchased in all municipalities in Tompkins County except the City of Ithaca.

To be eligible for program funds, the home must be in good condition at time of sale; no “handyman specials” may be purchased. All homes must be on a permanent foundation. Many types of properties are eligible, including:

  • Single-family home
  • Double-wide mobile home on a permanent foundation
  • Condominium
  • Cooperative
  • Townhouse
  • Dwellings designed to accommodate more than two households are not eligible for program funding. A duplex or home with an apartment is eligible; however, rental income will be counted in the household eligibility calculation.

    We discourage homebuyers from looking at houses before completing the First-Time Homebuyers Workshop.

    Household Eligibility

    Income limits: To be eligible for assistance, households must have an income at or below 80% of the area median annual income, as calculated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

    Minimum income: Because of the cost of housing in Tompkins County, a minimum annual income of $14,000 is required.

    Credit history: Each applicant must have a credit history free from bankruptcy or serious credit problems that would make a first mortgage unobtainable from a local lending institution.

    Counseling: Participants are required to receive one-on-one counseling and education through BHTC about home ownership before purchasing a home through the program.

    First-Time Homebuyer Workshops

    Each prospective homebuyer must complete a First-Time Homebuyer Workshop series, followed by 1-on-1 credit counseling as part of the process. Once complete, applicants may have their applications presented to the Oversight Committee for approval.

    Schedule: Workshops meet once a week from 6:30 – 8:30 pm, as part of a 6-week class. Please see the schedule of classes (right) to find a day and corresponding 6-week period that works best for you.

    Registration: Workshops fill up very quickly. There is a charge to attend the workshops and registration is required. To register, please call Better Housing at 607-273-2187 ext. 203 to speak with Paula Poteat, our Housing Programs Manager.

    Workshop fee: The cost for attending workshops is $80. Workshops are FREE for Section 8 participants.

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    Adam and Amy will tell you that it is not without hard work that you make a house “a home.” This “dream” was made possible by the assistance provided by the Tompkins County Homeownership Program. Call and sign up for the next workshop to learn about purchasing your “home.”

    2015 Schedule

    Tuesdays Jan 13 – Feb 17
    Wednesdays Feb 18 – Mar 25
    Tuesdays Mar 31 – May 5

    Home Repair Program

    This program provides repairs to help elderly homeowners and homeowners with disabilities live independently.

    Better Housing provides home repair services to elderly homeowners and homeowners with disabilities of any age in an effort to help them continue living independently. Between 85 and 100 households are assisted each year. We may be able to help with small jobs that need attention. Putting off small repairs often means more expensive ones later on. To find out if we can help you, please contact us.

    How It Works

    Eligibility: Homeowners 60 years and older and homeowners with disabilities of any age are eligible.

    Cost: Clients pay only the cost of materials. Skilled labor is provided at no cost. Depending on availability of funding, Better Housing may be able to help clients finance the purchases of materials. We welcome small donations from our clients to help us provide repairs to other homeowners, but this is not required.

    Types of repairs: Repairs related to health and safety are a top priority. Typical repairs include fixing or replacing deteriorated steps, adding handrails and grab bars, fixing leaky faucets, replacing broken windows, and installing wheelchair ramps.

    This program is not designed to alleviate emergencies or for housing rehabilitation. Since jobs are limited to a maximum of 35 hours per year, larger jobs are not possible. Work on heating systems, most electrical, and all roofing work cannot be done under the Home Repair program. Better Housing will help find alternative solutions if a homeowner needs repairs that are outside the scope of the program.

    How to apply: Contact us by phone at 607-273-2187 ext. 201 or by email to

    Program Funding

    Funding for the Tompkins County Home Repair Program is generously provided by:

  • NYS Office for the Aging, through the Tompkins County Office for the Aging
  • United Way of Tompkins County
  • Tompkins County
  • Private Donations
  • Home Rehabilitation Grants

    Better Housing works in local partnerships to administer rehabilitation programs throughout Tompkins County. Low-to-moderate-income homeowners receive assistance in making significant repairs to their homes. In the last three years 67 homes received rehabilitation assistance throughout the county.

    How the Program Works

    Better Housing’s Home Rehabilitation Grants provide substantial repairs such as roof replacement.

    Badly deteriorated porch and steps have been replaced with new pressure-treated lumber.

    Programs and partnerships: Better Housing has administered housing rehabilitation programs in most of the towns throughout Tompkins County. We partner with the County or with individual towns that have received grant funding for rehabilitation projects. Because funding is subject to federal and state grant availability, programs vary from year to year.

    Eligibility: Generally our programs follow a first-qualified, first-served process. We attempt to serve homes that have the most desperate needs first.

    In most cases, you must be a homeowner to qualify. Income documentation, proof that property taxes are paid to date, and proof that the home is covered by homeowner’s insurance must be provided. Your income will be determined and must fall within the grant’s allowable limits. Applications and all required documentation must be provided before we can determine your eligibility.

    Some programs are available specifically to elderly homeowners and homeowners with disabilities who need assistance with repairs and modifications to keep their homes safe and accessible allowing them to remain at home rather than moving into more costly institutional settings.

    Funding levels and cost: The level of assistance awarded to a household is determined by household need and by funding availability.

    Under almost all programs, a diminishing lien is placed on the property. In many cases a portion of the lien is forgiven each year the home remains owner-occupied. The amount of the lien is determined by the amount of the assistance provided. The lien remains in place for a pre-determined length of time which in most cases varies from two to ten years. If the home is sold, transferred, or rented during this period, the remaining balance must be repaid. The home must remain owner-occupied throughout the term of the lien. At the end of the term there is no further obligation to the homeowner.

    Types of homes: Most rehabilitation programs require the home to be owner-occupied and are for conventional stick-built homes. Assistance is sometimes available to homeowners living in mobile homes.

    Types of projects: Cosmetic repairs do not qualify. Many types of projects may be covered, depending on the parameters of the individual funding program.

    The repair process: Repairs are made by local, pre-qualified private contractors from a list maintained by Better Housing. You select three to four contractors from the list and we send bid packages to them. The program is able to provide funding for the lowest, available, responsible bid. Homeowners may choose a higher bid from a contractor of their choice, as long as the contractor completes an application and has the proper insurance and requirements. In such a case, the homeowner is required to pay the difference between that bid and the lowest bid.

    Cayuga Trails

    Proposed Cayuga Trails Housing Development

    Better Housing for Tompkins County, Inc. was established with the explicit goals of creating Better Housing, to support Better Communities, which results in Better Lives. A main objective of the Tompkins County Comprehensive Plan is to “Maintain an adequate supply of affordable housing options for people with special needs and promote housing opportunities for locally-employed persons who prefer to live in Tompkins County.” This was highlighted by the study on housing affordability commissioned by Tompkins County that concluded the County will need over 3,000 new units of housing to ensure that it maintains the economic growth and prosperity that has distinguished the County in Upstate New York.

    Cayuga Trails

    Cayuga Trails is an innovative public-private partnership conceived to create a sustainable and highly energy efficient multi-family housing community with the intended purpose of providing a model for sustainable community development that can be replicated across the country. This collaborative initiative involves the US Environmental Protection Agency, Tompkins County, the Town of Ithaca, community residents, Cornell University, a local not-for-profit housing developer, not-for-profit service providers, a national private multi-family developer, debt and equity providers, and the State of New York.

    Cayuga Trails involves the construction of fifty-eight (58) clustered town homes and one Community Building, or Common House, on 6.5 +/- acres of a single 25.5 acre site located on Harris B. Dates Drive south of Indian Creek Road in the Town of Ithaca, Tompkins County. The approximate 19.0 acre balance of the site (75% +/- of the site) is proposed to be retained as Open Space and a Conservation Area. In addition to the Conservation Area, a 1.0 acre Community Garden and a Dog Park will be developed and maintained by the Development residents. The site will also be integrated into the Black Diamond Trail of the Tompkins County Greenway Trails, which are a series of paths that promote pedestrian activity. Sidewalks and walking trails will be extensively utilized within the Development.

    Located within walking distance of the Cayuga Medical Center, and within a 1/4 mile of 2 TCAT Bus Routes, the site has been identified by the County as a key nodal development opportunity and a critical component to the County’s conscientious growth agenda. The Town of Ithaca is located on the west side of the City of Ithaca and contains numerous employment and medical services available in the region, and offers considerable centers of employment. Multiple big-box retail stores are available within 2 miles of the site.

    Cayuga Trails is a mixed-income affordable 1–4 bedroom, clustered townhome development designed for households making up to 90% of the AMI that will provide a unique housing experience for families, seniors and people with disabilities. The Development brings much needed workforce housing for households who are finding it increasingly difficult to identify appropriate, viable cost-effective housing options in the Ithaca Market.