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Testimony to the Illinois House Urban Revitalization Committee by Brenda Mitchell, Advocate Bethany Hospital

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today on why housing is an employer's issue.

Housing has not been an historic part of our "benefit package," nor an issue to which we paid attention in years past.

But new State incentives that encourage employer investment in housing options gave us a reason to evaluate the impact of a housing program for our own employees.

As a result, Bethany recently approved an Employer Assisted Housing Program for our personnel that we will launch in early October.  To support this program, we plan on accessing both the tax credits available through the new State Donation Tax Credit Program signed into law last August, as well as the matching funds available through the Illinois Housing Development Authority and the Metropolitan Planning Council.

Ultimately we decided to implement this program for three reasons:

  1. We understand that there is a shortage of quality homeownership opportunities affordable to our many of our employees near the hospital, and it is apparent to us that the more stable an employee's homebase, the more stable they are at work.  Goal # 1: Improve range of quality housing options for employees near the hospital.
  2. Our hospital is actually located in Garfield Park, one of the City's more affordable neighborhoods, but also a community recognizing its own reivestment and redevelopment needs.  Our hospital believes that we can contribute to Garfield Park's economic stability by encouraging homeownership near the hospital.  Goal #2:   Contribute to community development activities in the neighborhood. 
  3. And of course the bottom line is that we are interested in looking at housing issues overall because we firmly believe that this Employer Assisted Housing Program will reduce our own turn-over costs.  Every time we lose an employee, it costs us.  Goal # 3:   Reduce our own recruitment, retraining and other turn-over costs.

The more we learn about the state of housing in Illinois, the clearer it is that the public sector cannot pay for solutions on its own. You need private sector partners, and I understand that the new state incentives available are gradually attracting more employers to invest in housing solutions for their workforce.  We've been educated to understand the connection between housing and a competitive workforce, but believe there is more the state needs to do to leverage private sector investment

Our program is modest, so we are starting small.

We're contracting with NHS to provide credit counseling and homebuyer education to eligible employees. 

For people who graduate from this program, which we estimate will be about 25 people over the next five years , we are setting aside between $3,000 and $5,000 (depending on how long the employees commits to stay) for closing costs and downpayment assistance.  These funds will be structured as a forgivable loan. 

Thanks to the incentive programs available, the State will provide a dollar for dollar match of our assistance for income eligible households.  Additionally, we will recoup fifty percent of our investment via the new tax credit program at year's end.

I urge you to continue and expand the state's support of these programs, both in terms of housing dollars and in terms of outreach and education to other private sector leaders.  While we are pursuing homeownership options in a neighborhood that already has more rental housing options that many parts of the region, we do see the potential for other Advocate Hospitals to look at rental housing.  Again, for us the issue was as much about community reinvestment as about employee retention ... but for many of our peers throughout the region, the issue is solely one of affordability.  There is simply neither the rental nor the homeownership options in high job growth areas that are affordable to nurses, let alone entry level employees.

The sounder the state's housing policy for households at the full range of price points, the more stable our employment sector as well.

Thank you for your consideration.

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