Up to 200 Omaha area house hunters will be getting free down payment money under a program announced Wednesday by Wells Fargo and community partners.

The other good news: Recipients have yet to be selected, and interested families and individuals have time to register for an event next month that could open the door to the NeighborhoodLIFT program.

“This is about helping families get homes,” Kirk Kellner, Wells Fargo region bank president in Nebraska, said during a press conference.

The target group, Kellner said, is low- to average-income families or individuals — he cites as examples veterans, teachers, first responders — who might already have most pieces to attain home ownership but perhaps haven’t been able to save that necessary down payment.

He said the other core part of the program involves education and relaying information to participants about what it takes to own and maintain that home for the long term.

Omaha, specifically Douglas and Sarpy Counties, is the 71st market to be tapped for the national NeighborhoodLIFT program launched in 2012. Since its start, nearly 21,000 homeowners have been boosted by a total of $456 million, Wells Fargo says.

Locally, Wells Fargo will provide $3.9 million. The bulk will go toward down payment assistance — eligible participants will receive $15,000 or $17,500.

Some of the bank’s commitment will pay for classes and guidance provided by agencies including Omaha-based Family Housing Advisory Services. Also partnering in NeighborhoodLIFT is NeighborWorks America.

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Mayor Jean Stothert attended the Wednesday announcement and said she appreciated the Wells Fargo initiative, adding that it complements the City of Omaha’s ongoing efforts to improve home ownership opportunities.

“The NeighborhoodLIFT program is another way that we can all work together and make a commitment to affordable housing, which makes all of our neighborhoods stronger,” she said. “Strong neighborhoods make cities stronger.”

Interested families and individuals are encouraged to register, starting June 3, at www.wellsfargo.com/lift to attend a free event either June 21 or June 22 at the Ramada Plaza, 3321 S. 72nd St. (Friday’s hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday’s are 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.)

Walk-ins are welcome, officials said, but registering can secure a certain spot.

To receive a down payment grant, participants must qualify on various fronts, including a bank’s approval for a loan and income restrictions. Recipients of $15,000 grants must earn 80% or less of the area median income. The income limit is $68,800 for up to a family of four and higher for larger families.

Military service members and veterans, teachers, law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians are eligible for down payment assistance grants of $17,500 and can earn up to 100% of the area median income, $86,000 for up to a family of four.

Approved participants will have up to 60 days to finalize a contract to buy a home in Douglas or Sarpy County and can obtain mortgage financing from any participating lender — not just Wells Fargo, officials said.

Participants don’t have to be a first-time home buyer, but the house must serve as their primary residence. To get the full grant, they must commit to live in the house for five years.

“Home ownership has just gotten more affordable for many hard-working families,” said John Santner, regional vice president of NeighborWorks America.

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