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Nurses, teachers, police officers and firefighters will find it easier to buy their own homes in Niagara Falls with a new federal housing program announced here Monday by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.

"People who work and live in Niagara Falls will now be able to have their own little piece of the rock," Schumer said on the steps of City Hall.

The new program will offer financial incentives to employees of the city Police and Fire departments, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, Mount St. Mary's Hospital and Niagara University.

"This city has so much to offer, but we've had some rough times over the years," Schumer said. "One of the toughest problems employers face in this area is finding housing for their employees."

Area hospitals, for example, have a critical shortage of nurses, he said.

"They must compete for staff with hospitals in other areas that can offer higher salaries," Schumer said.

Local money lenders, including several banks and mortgage companies, would play a key role in helping people become homeowners, he said.

The Employer-Assisted Housing program is being implemented nationwide by Fannie Mae -- the familiar name for the former Federal National Mortgage Association.

"The lending partners are making a significant contribution to this program," said Robert D. Bannister, director of Fannie Mae's Western and Central New York office.

Help comes in the form of down payment and closing cost assistance, forgivable loans, interest rate buy-downs and home-buyer education. Employers pick up most of the costs of the program, he said.

Lenders have developed a variety of incentives, including forgivable loans of up to $5,000 for qualified home buyers.

"We've been working with Mayor (Irene J.) Elia for many months to bring this program to Niagara Falls," Bannister said.

Niagara University employees reside in areas from Buffalo and its suburbs to northern Niagara County.

"We want our faculty and staff to live in the area," said the Rev. Joseph Levesque, president of Niagara University, which straddles the City of Niagara Falls and the Town of Lewiston. "Housing is very expensive, and we're going to share in this great venture."


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