As David Benavides adjusted the welcome sign on the front door Friday, nine of Emily Benavides' second-grade students stopped by to visit their teacher at the couple's new home.
"Buying this home was all about location," Emily Benavides said of the three-bedroom 1954 stucco house on Daisy Avenue South in Santa Ana. "It is just a location nobody else wants."
The couple are the first in Southern California to move into a home bought under a new state program that gives public school teachers and principals a break on mortgage rates and helps with down payments. In exchange, teachers agree to work in schools with test scores in the state's bottom 30%.
The program has three aims: to help teachers become homeowners, encourage them to live in the communities where they work, and recruit them to less prestigious schools.
"We need . . . good teachers to go into our communities that are most at risk," said state Treasurer Philip Angelides, who proposed the program last year and was among three dozen officials who gathered outside the Benavides home Friday to welcome the new residents.
The couple moved into the house earlier this month from a $600-a-month apartment across the street.
Emily Benavides, 23, teaches at nearby Monte Vista Elementary School. David Benavides, 24, is a youth minister at the Hispanic Ministry Center in Santa Ana.
"I feel really connected with the neighborhood," he said. "At first, when I lived here for an internship, I didn't want to be here at all. There are gangs. It isn't the safest. But after I was here for a while, it became almost like home, walking down the street and seeing kids who remember my name. I knew I wanted to live here."
The couple learned of the program while finishing paperwork late last year to buy the house.
"It was like the program was made for people like us," said Emily Benavides, who knew years ago that she wanted to work at a struggling school "to give something back."
For a five-year school commitment, teachers buying a first home apply for a low mortgage interest rate and a $7,500 down payment.
To qualify, a teacher or principal also must not have owned a home within three years and must meet income limits: about $70,000 for a one- or two-person household, $80,000 for a household of three or more. The maximum purchase price is roughly $250,000 for resold homes and $338,000 for new ones.
"My students come by to visit pretty much every day," Emily Benavides said. "I'll get to be a part of the community now."