Peta-Gay Lewis bought her Ivy City home with a loan from D.C.’s Home Purchase Assistance Program. (Teddy Wolff/For Express)

When D.C. resident Peta-Gay Lewis was ready to buy her first home, she knew to look to the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development for help with the process. After all, she already had experience with its Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP).

“My parents purchased their home over 27 years ago using the same program,” says Lewis, 33. “And it’s still a great program.”

Buying a home in D.C. isn’t easy. It’s a competitive market where prices haven’t seen the declines other cities did after the housing crash of 2006-2008. Many first-time buyers, especially those without a six-figure salary or a lifetime of savings, might need help amassing enough money for a down payment and closing costs.

That’s where HPAP comes in. The program provides interest-free loans to qualified applicants interested in purchasing residential property in the District. These loans are supplemental to the primary mortgage a buyer would obtain on a property, providing additional funding to help cover the down payment and closing costs. Applicants must be of low to moderate income, be first-time home buyers, have a good credit rating and use the property as their primary residence. Preference is given to people who are already living in D.C.

HPAP helps about 250 homebuyers each year and has provided about $225 million in loans since its inception in 1977. Could it work for you? We’ve got answers to four common questions homebuyers might have.

How Does the Program Work?

Interested applicants start out at one of four community organizations: Housing Counseling Services, Latino Economic Development Center, Lydia’s House or University Legal Services, where they can attend an orientation session to learn about the program’s requirements, and then fill out an application.

If prospective buyers need to raise their credit score or learn more about the basics of buying a home, they can get help becoming a qualified applicant who’s ready to purchase property.

“If you’re not eligible for the program yet, we work with you to get you eligible,” says Manuel Ochoa, regional director of homeownership at the Latino Economic Development Center (202-588-5102). “Some HPAP clients work with us for a year before they’re ready to submit their application.”

Submitted applications are reviewed by the Greater Washington Urban League (2901 14th St. NW; 202-265-8200), which processes applications on behalf of the District. The review determines whether applicants are eligible for funding in the first place, as well as the level of assistance they receive. Before getting the loan, applicants have to take classes to learn about the home-buying process (covering topics like securing a mortgage and hiring a home inspector), participate in one-on-one financial counseling if needed, and pass an exam.

How Much Funding Might I Receive?

If you’re eligible, HPAP offers up to $40,000 in what’s called “gap-financing assistance,” which is a loan that can be used for down payments or in case the primary loan you get is less than the purchase price of the property. Applicants can also receive loans of up to $4,000 for closing costs. The amount you get depends on such factors as your annual income, household size and personal assets. HPAP loans are 0 percent interest and are deferred for the first five years, which means that monthly principal-only payments don’t begin until the loan’s sixth year. The loan repayment period is spread out over 40 years.

Am I a Good Candidate?

A person who makes $65,800 or less annually can qualify for some level of gap-financing and closing-cost assistance through the program. The lower your income — or the larger your household — the more you’re eligible for. A person who makes between $65,800 and $82,650 annually can only get money for closing costs. Applicants can be anyone from a single, 20-something just starting a career to a family who’s been renting in the District for years while saving for a home.

It’s best for buyers to know the amount of HPAP financing they can get before looking for a home, so they have a clear picture of what they can afford. And because it can take several months — or longer — to go through the program, buyers have to be able to wait it out and understand that they don’t have the ability to act as quickly as someone who’s not in need of HPAP financing.

“You need a lot of patience,” says Bonnie Roberts-Burke, an agent with Evers & Co. Real Estate (202-464-8400) who’s worked with buyers using HPAP. “You have to have the time to commit to taking the classes, and then you have to find a house within your means in Washington, D.C., which can sometimes be challenging.”

Only one-third of qualified applicants actually wind up receiving loans each year because of these kinds of issues.

“The others might drop out because they get frustrated over not being able to find the exact house they want, or their first source of financing falls through,” says Marcus Williams, communications director at the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development.

But perseverance can pay off. “You just have to stay on top of the whole process,” Lewis says. “Make sure you follow through, and do what your counselor says you should do.”

Is All of This Effort Worth It?

Definitely, say the folks who have achieved their dream of homeownership.

“The best part is my mortgage costs a lot less than what I used to pay for rent,” says Lewis, who purchased a single-family home in D.C.’s Ivy City neighborhood with the help of both HPAP and other affordable-housing incentives. “My kids have their own yard and their own rooms now.”

And those aren’t the only benefits of making the transition from renting to owning. “Home buying is still an important wealth-building part of a lot of people’s financial lives,” Ochoa says. “Having a program like HPAP paired with counseling can really help people be successful.”

Local Lending

Don’t live in the District? There are home-purchase assistance programs offered by other local governments aimed at low- and moderate-income first-time buyers.

Arlington County’s Low-Interest Mortgage and Moderate-Income Purchase Assistance programs (703-228-3765)

Fairfax County’s First-Time Homebuyers program (703-246-5087)

Loudoun County’s Down Payment/Closing Cost Assistance program (703-777-0353)

Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development’s Down Payment Assistance program (804-371-7000)

Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County’s Mortgage Purchase program (240-627-9798)

Prince George’s County’s My HOME program (301-883-5300)

Real Estate Effort for Affordable Community Housing, a joint venture of Housing & Community Initiatives and the city of Rockville (301-590-2765)

Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development’s CDA Maryland Mortgage program and Downpayment and Settlement Expense Loan program (410-514-7000)