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Not so long ago, Kenneth Givens and his family lived in an apartment. The father of two young boys, Givens worried about their safety. He was constantly nagged by the prospect of another rent increase.

"When you live in an apartment, you never know who your neighbors are. They come and go. You have to look out for your kids," Givens said recently, his 3-year-old son Majik squirming on his lap.All that changed April 1, when Givens purchased a house with the help of a Utah Housing Finance Agency. The agency program enables low- to moderate-income Utahns realize the dream of home ownership.

For $336 a month, the family has purchased a three-bedroom house in a quiet residential neighborhood. The pin-neat house is surrounded by a fenced, grass yard, a safe play area for his sons.

To assist other families, the agency's board of directors recently approved the release of $25 million in low-interest mortgage money to be made available to qualifying Utahns at a 6.99 percent interest rate.

The bond issue will provide home ownership to approximately 400 lower-income households statewide. The program is limited to first-time homebuyers and some lending decisions are based on the cost and location of the home. Restrictions also vary by county.

"Utah Housing's very low interest rates are the best opportunity available for Utah's first-time homebuyers having modest incomes. Also, UHFA's new `no point option' will really be the key for renters who are currently wishing to buy a home but are having difficulty saving for a down payment," said William Erickson, the agency's executive director.

The agency offers mortgage loans with zero points on both of its 30-year home ownership programs. One point equals 1 percent of the amount borrowed; points are paid by the homebuyer at loan closing and may contribute to a higher down payment. The agency's "zero point option" offers a fixed interest rate of 7.34 percent.

Givens, a security guard at a suburban mall, said he'd still be renting if not for the UHFA program.

"I don't think we'd be in a house. For one, it's the down payment that gets you. It's hard to come up with that 5 percent," he said.

But with the help of the program, Givens is home.

Next fall, his 5-year-old son Kendu will attend an elementary school two blocks from his home. The street, a mixture of older couples and parents with young children, provides the boys the best of all worlds: playmates and the watchful eyes of retired neighbors.

"There are not a lot of rentals here, as far as I know. I like the fact I have people next door who have been in the neighborhood 35 years."

But unlike apartment living, where one can call the landlord when the sink backs up or the water heater goes on the fritz, home ownership carries certain responsibilities.

"It's great. The work never stops. You get up in the morning and you got to mow the lawn and stuff. But it's yours, so you don't mind doing it," Givens said.

Doubtless, owning a home instills a sense of pride in the owner. More so, it gives people better control of their lives, Erickson said.

"The tears come to their eyes (when people realize the dream of home ownership). All they ever wanted in their life was a break and this was the break," said Erickson.

Established in 1975, the Utah Housing Finance Agency is charged to provide decent, safe and sanitary housing for low- and moderate-income households in Utah. Its programs have provided home ownership for more than 31,000 lower-income households and have financed the creation of nearly 6,000 rental units for lower-income families statewide.

"This program does not cost the taxpayers of Utah or the state of Utah one penny. We have 36,000 families who are in control of their lives," Erickson said.

For brochures on the agency's affordable mortgage programs, call the UHFA at 521-6950 or 1-800-284-6950.