The Tennessee Housing Development Agency says a new down payment assistance program is helping hundreds of Tennesseans become first-time home buyers.

The Hardest Hit Fund Down Payment Assistance program helps qualified first-time home buyers cover the down payment and closing costs on a home in targeted areas that have been slow to rebuild since the recession.

Since the program began March 1, 104 home buyers in Knox, Anderson, Cocke, Hamblen and Jefferson counties have received $15,000 to help them buy homes in eligible ZIP Codes.

THDA said that's a 37 percent increase over 2016, when 102 THDA mortgage loans were issued in those counties.

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Across the state, 706 households have applied to receive downpayment assistance totaling more than $1 million in the first four months of the program.

“Statewide, I’m thrilled to report a phenomenal 85-percent increase in home loans to the areas we’re targeting with the program, so we’re clearly succeeding at energizing the housing market in the places in our state that need it most,” THDA Executive Director Ralph M. Perrey said in a statement.

The program is aimed at 55 ZIP Codes across the state. You can see a map and a list of the participating ZIP Codes at this link.

Knoxville neighborhoods located in the eligible ZIP Codes include North Knoxville, Old North Knoxville, Edgewood, Parkridge, Park City, Whittle Springs, Burlington, West Haven, Lonsdale, Norwood and Pleasant Ridge. Across East Tennessee, 20 ZIP Codes are eligible.

The assistance program provides a 10-year second mortgage loan with no monthly payments and no accrued interest. THDA will also forgive 20 percent of the loan each year starting in year six – which means after 10 years without selling or refinancing the home, the loan is completely forgiven.

THDA received $60 million from the U.S. Department of Treasury's Hardest Hit Fund to launch the program. The program could help as many as 4,000 potential homebuyers throughout Tennessee.

The state has four years to disperse its $60 million.