Caris and Jon Li were doubtful when they first heard about the home buyer assistance program NeighborhoodLIFT.

“It seemed too good to be true,” Caris Li said.

But after receiving $15,000 in 2012 to help pay for their duplex in St. Paul’s Hamline-Midway neighborhood, the couple is encouraging others to give it a try. Wells Fargo, which funds the program, is rolling out a second round of grants in the Twin Cities.

On Tuesday morning, St. Paul and Minneapolis mayors Chris Coleman and Betsy Hodges, along with officials from Wells Fargo, the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency and nonprofits, packed onto the Li’s front porch to announce that 450 prospective homeowners in the Twin Cities could get up to $7,500 in matching down-payment assistance.

That may seem like relatively few people in a metropolitan area of 3 million, Coleman said, but each grant can make a big difference to families and their new neighborhoods.

“One of the most important assets a person could have is their home, and the one way that they can pass on wealth to their children and beyond is through homeownership,” Coleman said. “So, on so many different levels, these programs are incredibly important.”

Wells Fargo debuted the national NeighborhoodLIFT program in February 2012 with the goal of stabilizing neighborhoods that were hard-hit by the housing crisis. Local applicants could receive $15,000 during the initial round of funding, which helped 422 households in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

NeighborhoodLIFT and other programs can help close the ownership gap that exists between households of color and white households, said Mary Tingerthal, commissioner of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency.

About 76 percent of white households own their home, while about 40 percent of households of color are homeowners, she said.

“[Homeownership] really is a beginning of putting down roots and being part of strong neighborhoods,” Tingerthal said, but for many families, down payment and closing costs prevent them from owning a home.

Grant applicants cannot earn more than 80 percent of the local median income, but the income requirements vary depending on family size and type of loan, according to Wells Fargo. Applicants do not have to have a home loan through Wells Fargo to qualify for assistance.

People who are interested in the grants must stop by a NeighborhoodLIFT event June 10-11 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis, at 1300 Nicollet Mall. Officials there will determine whether applicants are eligible.

Once applicants are approved, they have 60 days to finalize a contract to purchase a home, said Kimberly Smith-Moore, a senior vice president at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage who works with the LIFT program.

Participants also must complete an eight-hour home buyer education class to qualify. They must have lived in their home for three years to receive the full grant amount.

To register for the June event or to learn more, call (866) 858-2151 or visit