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University of Chicago takes employer-assisted housing to the next level

In an effort to preserve the affordable rental housing that is critical to housing those affiliated with a large university, the University of Chicago has taken a unique move by investing $1 million with the nonprofit Community Investment Corporation (CIC), which specializes in lending to independent "hands-on" developers. For a long time, the University has supported its surrounding neighborhood by assisting students and employees to identify housing opportunities. In 2003, in partnership with Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) and Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago (NHS), the University introduced an employer-assisted housing (EAH) program to assist employees purchasing a home in the areas near the campus. This new investment in CIC, which supports housing options for the broader community and is not limited to university employees, takes EAH to the next step in Illinois; underwriting affordable rental housing for income-eligible households.

CIC's clients are usually "hands-on" developers who purchase and renovate/maintain older buildings so prevalent in the areas around the U of C. The majority of the affordable rental housing in these neighborhoods is in smaller multi-unit buildings, and many are in danger of being torn down for new development or converted to condominiums.

The first $1 million along with $1million in equity from developers and $8 million from CIC is expected to preserve a minimum of 190 existing apartments within the first year.

This preservation strategy will complement the existing commitments the University is making toward improving the community surrounding its campus. In addition to the $1 million with CIC, the University is also investing in the following housing strategies:

  • The standard MPC employer- assisted housing model , which provides income eligible university and hospital employees with $7,500 in down payment assistance to purchase a home in the neighborhoods adjacent to the campus (South Shore, Woodlawn, Kenwood, Oakland and Washington Park).
  • A $250,000 contribution to the Local Initiatives Support Corporation for quality of life projects in Woodlawn, Washington Park, and the Quad Communities. A portion of the grant will strengthen youth development and neighborhood beautification projects, with $100,000 reserved for projects that support and maintain affordable housing.
  • The University will also open its third charter school next fall in the Woodlawn neighborhood.

Although housing is not part of the University's primary mission, this approach of making targeted investments to support an evolving community that is facing increasing housing prices, as well as dwindling supply, does advance U of C's primary mission of providing an attractive campus for both students and workers, while also supporting the development of high quality mix-income neighborhoods on the southside of Chicago.

The Metropolitan Planning Council is committed to helping employers find appropriate ways to assist in housing their workforces, and building communities around their places of business. The Council's standard EAH model, now known as REACH Illinois, was always intended to serve as a springboard for interested employers into other housing ventures. The University's partnership with CIC introduces a replicable model that other local employers might want to consider. MPC can work with employers to design and implement investments that meet each employer's goals while also helping to boost their bottom lines.

For further information, contact Jane Hornstein at (312) 863-6040 or jhornstein@metroplanning.org.

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