Chicago, Illinois (NAPSI) - As the U.S. housing market continues its rebound, many buyers and lenders are trying to understand the new landscape and what it means. With tougher credit standards, fewer buyers qualify for mortgage loans.

While housing prices remain below the peak of several years ago, they have been steadily rising, according to the Illinois Association of Realtors.

To help Illinois residents, the state has introduced a new home loan program, Welcome HomeIllinois, administered by the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA). The program aims to stimulate activity among first-time homebuyers who have been missing from the market.

By offering qualified borrowers $7,500 in down-payment assistance and a below-market, 30-year, fixed-rate loan, the program frees many buyers who have been trapped on the sidelines to get into the homebuying marketplace.

“Homeownership is essential to our economy, and Welcome HomeIllinois represents the best opportunity for everyday, hardworking residents to own a home,” said Governor Pat Quinn.

There are several steps that applicants can take to become more attractive to a lender, according to IHDA Executive Director Mary R. Kenney.

She recommends those considering buying a home for the first time:

• Consult a homeownership counselor. Try asking your lender if you need help finding a counselor. Homeownership counselors can provide advice on buying a home, renting, defaults, foreclosures and credit issues.

• Strengthen your credit score.

• Save for down payment and closing costs and build a healthy savings account. Lenders want to see that you’re not living paycheck to paycheck.

In addition to creating homeownership opportunities, it’s believed the program will stimulate statewide economic activity and will generate an estimated:

• 1,500 full-time jobs

• $50 million from real estate-related industries

• More than $40 million in economic activity for the state

• Additional $16 million in other statewide spending

To qualify for this program, borrowers must be first-time buyers or not have owned their primary residence in the last three years.

To learn more about this and other affordable housing programs, visit