City of Highland Park helps employees purchase in the city they serve - Metropolitan Planning Council

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City of Highland Park helps employees purchase in the city they serve

MPC helped the City of Highland Park develop a new EAH program that, layered with a matching grant from the city's Affordable Housing Trust and a townhome through the Highland Park Illinois Community Land Trust, turned one long-term employee into a happy homeowner.

Linda Dixon knows a nice home when she sees one. For the past five-and-a-half years, Dixon has worked for the City of Highland Park’s Building Division and, in that time, she’s seen a lot, from single-families to apartments. A few months ago, Dixon was out on an inspection at Hyacinth Place, a new, “green,” affordable townhouse development located near the Highwood Metra stop and directly across the street from the Ft. Sheridan Metra stop. She knew right away it was a place she could call home.

“Sometimes you just connect with a place,” said Dixon, who added that she immediately started to envision how she would arrange her own furniture in the space.

The timing was right for a move: Dixon, a single mother of two almost-grown children – her son graduated from college last year, and her daughter is a freshman at the University of Iowa  – wanted to downsize.  Her child support payments would soon cease, and she no longer wanted to maintain a single-family home. She also desired to live closer to work to reduce her commute from Wheeling, Ill., which could take anywhere from 45 minutes on a “normal day” to three-and-a-half hours in bad weather.

At first, Dixon didn’t think she could afford to live at Hyacinth Place. “The units were so nice,” she said. “I had no idea they were affordable.”

Once Dixon determined the three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath Hyacinth Place townhome she was eyeing was in her price range, she began to give it serious thought. Then she learned she could receive $4,500 in down payment and closing cost assistance from the City of Highland Park’s employer-assisted housing program, and matching funds from the Highland Park Affordable Housing Trust.

At that point, it was a no-brainer.

“It is an unbelievable program!” said Dixon, who saved a total of $9,000 on her unit, which was priced at $239,000 but has a market value closer to $400,000. “It must have been meant for me to be here.”

Dixon moved in on January 9, 2009, during one of this winter’s worst snow storms. Despite this season’s chilly temperatures, Dixon says her utility costs have been very reasonable, thanks to the geothermal heating and cooling unit used to heat the townhome. She also loves her home’s other “green” features: bamboo floors, Energy star appliances, and “smart” toilets that save water.

Living closer to work is another plus. Dixon’s commute takes just five minutes, allowing her to go home on her lunch break to walk her dog – and giving her back more than an hour each day she would have wasted on the road.

Though Dixon has never taken Metra in her life, she is sure that will change now that she’s living so close to a station. “My daughter and I are looking forward to using the train to go to festivals and shop in downtown Chicago this summer,” she said. 

Dixon’s story is one of many happy endings made possible by Highland Park’s ongoing efforts to ensure the community has a range of housing affordable to families at all incomes.  

The city donated the land at Hyacinth Place to the Highland Park Illinois Community Land Trust. At the city's request, Brinshore Development and Housing Opportunity Development Corporation developed Hyacinth Place to meet Highland Park’s goals for the site.  

While homeowners at Hyacinth Place, such as Dixon, will own their townhomes, the Land Trust will continue to own the actual property. Taking the land cost out of the purchase equation ensures that Hyacinth Place will remain affordable for residents now and in the future.  

Hyacinth Place includes rental units, which are being leased to households at or below 60 percent of Area Median Income (AMI) ($40,750 annually for a three-person household). Seven of the homeownership units are priced affordably for households at 120 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), while the three remaining for-sale units are affordable for households up to 80 percent AMI. 

"We expect Hyacinth Place to serve as a model in northern Illinois for affordable, environmentally sustainable development,” said Mayor Michael Belsky. “We also view it as another step in our efforts to address regional and national issues with local solutions." 

When Mayor Belsky partnered with the mayors of four neighboring towns nearly two years ago for the launch of the Charter One Workforce Housing Initiative, he encouraged area employers to offer housing help to the north suburban workforce.  Linda Dixon’s success as the first employee to purchase a home through this initiative marks a significant win for workforce housing in the northern suburbs.  One of the main goals of EAH and the Charter One Workforce Housing Initiative is to help workers live closer to their jobs.  Linda’s story showcases how these programs can and do enrich the lives of dedicated employees, by offering a choice of safe and affordable housing near the workplace. 

For more information on affordable homes through the Highland Park Illinois Community Land Trust, visit their web site. 

For more information on launching an EAH program for your municipality, organization, or company, contact MPC's suburban EAH consultant Lillie Jernigan at (312) 863-6005 or ljernigan@metroplanning.org.  Visit the REACH web site for more information.

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