Chicago – It’s the “Swiss army knife” of public-private investments — a single program to promote home ownership, reduce costly employee turnover and help relieve traffic congestion on area expressways.
It’s called employer-assisted housing, or EAH. And now the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) has decided to sweeten the EAH package available to employers in northeastern Illinois.
On Friday, April 20, IHDA’s governing board voted unanimously to match, dollar-for-dollar, the assistance that companies provide their moderate-wage workers to help buy houses closer to work.
“We’re very excited about this,” said Peter Dwars, the authority’s executive director. “The reverse commute is getting as bad as in-bound traffic. There’s a need for housing near jobs.”
This is especially true for fast-growing suburbs along the metropolitan fringe. Many have attracted office and industrial parks, but their least-expensive housing tends to be priced beyond the reach of many average-wage workers. That means grueling, twice-a-day commutes of an hour or more by workers who tend to live in Chicago or the more affordable close-in suburbs.
Less apparent than traffic jams and air pollution is the problem of worker retention. Yet employers report that road-weary workers are arriving late, or worse, quitting their jobs for ones closer to home . . . even if it means less pay and chances for advancement.
Several months ago, the Metropolitan Planning Council, along with Chicago Metropolis 2020, (another regionally focused civic group) began talking about this jobs/housing mismatch with employers and with city and suburban non-profit housing groups. A pilot home purchase program was begun at System Sensor, Inc. a maker of smoke detectors in west suburban St. Charles. By providing 16 employees with counseling and $5,000 in down payment help, the company so reduced its turnover as to recoup its entire investment in just one year.
Now MPC, Metropolis 2020 and a coalition of eight local housing groups are knocking on corporate doors across the Chicago region, especially hospitals and manufacturers where turnover plays havoc with skilled workforce needs.
Last week’s action by IHDA substantially improves the EAH product they are able to offer.
Specifically, IHDA earmarked $268,000 of its Trust Fund to be used as matching funds to amplify the incentives offered by participating employers. The incentives can take the form of down payment or closing cost assistance, or reduced-interest mortgages.
To be eligible for assistance, an employee’s family income must be no greater that 80 percent of the Chicago area median, or $52,500 per year for a family of four. They also, of course, must work at a participating company (and they can help make that happen by alerting management about EAH).
Employers should call MPC’s Samantha DeKoven at 312/922-5616, ext.145. They will receive help in tailoring an EAH program and will be referred to a local housing group for technical assistance — essentially outsourcing program administration and counseling of employees.
This Regional Employer-Assisted Collaboration for Housing (REACH) includes: Affordable Housing Corporation of Lake County; DuPage Homeownership Center; Corporation for Affordable Homes of McHenry County; Interfaith Housing Development Corporation (North Shore); Joseph Corporation (Kane County); Neighborhood Housing Services; Northwest Housing Partnership; and South Suburban Housing Center.
“This is a simple tool for addressing a complex problem,” said MarySue Barrett, president of MPC. “It’s an entirely win-win strategy.”
MPC is supporting legislation now before the General Assembly (H.B. 504) that would provide additional state funding for employer-assisted housing.
For more information contact Robin Synderman, MPC housing director, at 312/922-5616, ext. 143.