St. James Hospital and Health Centers' Employer-Assisted Housing Program Helps Employee Purchase Her First Home - Metropolitan Planning Council

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St. James Hospital and Health Centers' Employer-Assisted Housing Program Helps Employee Purchase Her First Home

St. James’ $5,000 in down payment assistance leverages an additional $8,000 for homebuyer

(Chicago Heights , Ill.)….. Like nearly half of all Americans, Dannetta Smith establishes personal goals at the start of each new year. What sets Dannetta apart is that she actually accomplished her 2006 New Year’s resolution before 2007, when she purchased her first home in July.

The 39-year-old Park Forest resident’s path to homeownership was rocky. But her resolve to provide a better life for her family, combined with an innovative homebuyer assistance program offered by her employer, St. James Hospital and Health Centers, helped Dannetta overcome the financial and institutional obstacles that prevent millions of Americans from ever owning their own homes. By participating in the hospital’s employer-assisted housing (EAH) program, Dannetta received invaluable homeownership counseling from the nonprofit Regional Redevelopment Corp., plus $5,000 in down payment assistance from St. James, money that leveraged an additional $8,000 in assistance from other public and private homeownership programs. St. James’ EAH program made it possible for Dannetta, a lifelong renter who had been on public assistance for nearly a decade, to buy a home just five minutes from her job as a patient care coordinator at the hospital’s Chicago Heights campus.

“[Becoming a homeowner] was a struggle, and the program was a lot of work, but I wanted to leave something for my children,” said Smith, 39, who has two daughters, ages 21 and 15. “Now I know I can do all things if I stay focused.”

That sense of accomplishment and security is one of the many intangibles St. James hopes to provide its employees through its EAH program. Helping employees live near work, improving stability and morale among workers, and providing an innovative benefit to attract and retain employees are key reasons why more than 60 Chicago-area employers have “signed on” to offer EAH, helping hundreds of homebuyers afford homes since the nonprofit Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) launched the program with its first employer in 2000.

“St. James Hospital and Health Centers is delighted to be a part of helping Dannetta achieve her dream of homeownership, and we congratulate her for taking the initiative to complete the program,” said Peter Murphy, president of St. James Hospital and Health Centers. “There is great value in ensuring our employees can afford to live near work: it allows them to spend more time with their families and in their communities, reduces turnover, benefits the local community by investing in workforce housing, and reduces regional congestion. EAH is a winning proposition for employers, employees and the region.”

By providing down payment assistance (typically about $5,000 in the form of a loan forgiven over five years) and free homeownership counseling, EAH programs, including St. James’, not only put participants on the path to homeownership, but also help them avoid the pitfalls many first-time homebuyers face. For instance, after completing homeownership courses through the Regional Redevelopment Corporation – a nonprofit housing counseling agency that partners with south suburban employers to administer EAH programs – Dannetta dove into her search for a new home. She found a real estate agent who led her to a quaint cottage home tucked away on a quiet, curving street in Park Forest. The agent recommended a mortgage broker who “seemed really nice,” said Dannetta, and she was encouraged by her progress. But when Dannetta reviewed her loan and walked the home with Peter Gunn, executive director of the Regional Redevelopment Corporation, he was able to stop her from falling for a sham: not only was the house “a money pit,” but the mortgage broker was charging Dannetta and the seller the same fees, on top of sky-high interest rates.

“By working with Dannetta, we were able to help her find a good home she truly loved, and avoid a predatory lending situation,” said Gunn. “In addition, we helped her secure $5,000 in grant money from Park National Bank and another $3,000 from the Illinois Housing Development Authority, which turned St. James’ generous $5,000 in down payment assistance into a $13,000 down payment for Dannetta’s new home.”

Federal, state and municipal leaders have backed employer-assisted housing both as a strategy for helping workers afford housing in expensive, job-rich markets, and as a tool for promoting community reinvestment in distressed markets. The Illinois Housing Development Authority will match an employer’s down payment assistance up to $5,000 for households earning less than 50 percent of the region’s Area Median Income (AMI), or up to $3,000 for households earning between 50 and 80 percent of AMI. The Illinois Affordable Housing Tax Credit Program provides employers a 50 cent tax credit for every $1 invested in an EAH program. Even nonprofits and hospitals such as St. James can benefit from these transferable tax credits. In Illinois, other employers offering EAH programs include the Village of Riverdale and Robinson Engineering in the south suburbs; Rush University Medical Center and Christie Weber Landscaping in Chicago; and Bank of America and Charter One Bank statewide. Across the country and statewide, new employers launch EAH programs each month, indicating a growing understanding among the private sector that it pays to invest in workforce housing.

“Nationwide, homeownership rates continue to climb, but for working families with children, those numbers are actually falling. That’s because resurgent housing markets are pricing out low and moderate-income families, while the production of affordable homes is at a trickle,” said Robin Snyderman, MPC housing director. “The American dream of homeownership is far beyond the reach of millions of working families, many of whom cannot even afford the rising cost of rent, especially in communities near jobs and transit. Through EAH programs, the private sector becomes part of the solution, investing in housing assistance to employees while reaping bottom-line benefits.”

MPC helps employers design customized EAH programs and provides program evaluation. Learn more about employer-assisted housing in Illinois at www.reachillinois.org.

About the Regional Redevelopment Corporation
The Regional Redevelopment Corporation has been serving the needs of Chicago ’s south side and southern suburbs since 1993, with programs that support the availability of affordable housing, successful home ownership, local business development, and industrial area support. Citywide partnerships empower RRC to address issues in education, quality and affordable health care, crime reduction, and issues that enrich the lives of local youth.

About Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC)
Founded in 1934, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group of business and civic leaders committed to serving the public interest through the promotion and implementation of sensible planning and development policies necessary for an economically competitive Chicago region. MPC researches and develops policy recommendations and conducts outreach and advocacy in partnership with public officials and community leaders to enhance equity of opportunity and quality of life throughout metropolitan Chicago.

About St. James Hospital and Health Centers
Established in 1911, St. James Hospital and Health Centers is a two-campus healthcare delivery system serving the Chicago Southland region. With hospitals in Chicago Heights and Olympia Fields, St. James provides advanced cardiac and cancer services, and a wide range of programs and services that respond to community needs. Through the ministry of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, St. James has delivered high-quality healthcare for more than 90 years. St. James was recognized by Solucient in 2004 and 2005 as one of the nation's 100 Top Cardiovascular Hospitals and by the Center of Innovation in Healthcare Facilities as one of the Top 10 Most Innovative Facilities.

For more information about employer-assisted housing initiatives, contact Mandy Burrell, MPC communications associate, at 312.863.6018 or mburrell@metroplanning.org; or Robin Snyderman, MPC housing director, at 312.863.6007 or rsnyderman@metroplanning.org. For more information about St. James Hospital or to schedule an interview with Dannetta Smith, please contact Sherry Sissac, at 708.756.1000, ext. 3455 or sherry.sissac@ssfhs.org .

 

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