National Conference on Employer-Assisted Housing attracts 200 professionals from 36 states to Chicago - Metropolitan Planning Council

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National Conference on Employer-Assisted Housing attracts 200 professionals from 36 states to Chicago

The National Association of Realtors convened partners to explore how to "Bring Workers Home."

On Oct. 6, 2008, housing industry professionals convened by the National Association of Realtors -- and co-hosted by the Metropolitan Planning Council and National Housing Conference -- gathered in Chicago to explore partnership opportunities to support employer-assisted housing (EAH). Attendees came from more than 36 states, and included lenders, employers, housing counselors, REALTORS, and policymakers.

Framing the business community's self-interest in this work, during the opening session, Aflac Vice President of Human Resources Sharon Douglas explained it simply: "If you take care of the employees, the employees will take care of the company . I want employees, when they come to work, to be focused on work. I don't want employees coming to work worried about paying the rent."

The huge numbers of homeowners nationwide losing or at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure has highlighted the need for new solutions and creative partnerships related to both workforce and housing stability. Employer-assisted housing links financial assistance with homeownership education, and takes advantage of industry professionals to provide valuable services to buyers.

Keynote speakers Ellen Sahli, commissioner of the City of Chicago Dept. of Housing, and Carl Guardino, of Silicon Valley Leadership Council, showcased examples of how EAH can be a powerful tool in a weakened economy. Ms. Sahli pointed to the current Find Your Place in Chicago campaign as one example, and Guardino reminded people that the last dollars leveraged by the private sector to create the Santa Clara Housing Trust Fund - in the 1990s - came in after the "dot com bust."

The conference featured Realtors and nonprofits working together to leverage downpayment assistance and other resources for working families. Local speakers - representing MPC, Charter One, and Chicago Public Schools, as well as Lake Forest Mayor Mike Rummel -- sprinkled the largely national group of panelists.

More information about successful EAH models is available at www.reachillinois.org , including contact information for EAH consultants working throughout Illinois and nationwide. More information about the National Association of Realtors' Home from Work EAH program is available at www.realtor.org .

Aside from sharing the local benefits to employees, employers, the community, and housing policy arena, perhaps the main contribution of local speakers at this national conference was to share the three main lessons of REACH Illinois :

  1. Pursue a coordinated EAH strategy, as opposed to having many different messengers marketing different programs to the same employers.
  2. Partner with mission-driven nonprofit counseling agencies.
  3. Be strategic by linking EAH programs to broader policy and development objectives.

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