Metropolitan Planning Council hires new staff members to advance housing, community development programs - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Metropolitan Planning Council hires new staff members to advance housing, community development programs

(Chicago)….. The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) is pleased to welcome two new full-time employees whose work will advance the crosscutting agendas of MPC’s Housing program and Community Building Initiative.

Josh Ellis, 28, a former MPC research associate, has stepped into a newly created role: community development associate. His primary responsibility is providing support and technical assistance to local communities as they pursue strategies to increase workforce housing, improve transportation options, and successfully implement economic development and redevelopment plans.

Lillie Jernigan, 29, has been hired as a full-time consultant to assist suburban community leaders, business owners, and developers using employer-assisted housing (EAH) to increase the availability of affordable, workforce housing near suburban job centers. She comes to MPC from Neighborhood Housing Services, where she worked with the University of Chicago/ University of Chicago Hospitals on the university’s EAH program (in partnership with MPC).

Ellis’ educational background and work experience primed him to assist MPC’s Community Building Initiative. While pursuing two master’s degrees in public policy and Middle Eastern studies from the University of Chicago, Ellis worked for MPC in 2006 as a research associate, helping the Council and the Campaign for Sensible Growth’s efforts to improve water supply management in Illinois. He also helped write a soon-to-be-released retail development workbook for communities, being produced by MPC, the International Council of Shopping Centers, the Campaign for Sensible Growth, and Metropolitan Mayors Caucus. Ellis also served as an ESL instructor in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, where he came to better understand the needs of northeastern Illinois’ fast-growing Latino immigrant population; and as an intern in the Chicago office of U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, helping to handle constituents’ housing concerns.

“Through the Community Building Initiative, MPC provides technical assistance to help communities in northeastern Illinois realize their visions. Josh Ellis is well suited to this work,” said MPC President MarySue Barrett. “MPC and our local partners will benefit from his sharp eye for identifying leading-edge development and redevelopment strategies, and his experience working with communities at a variety of levels.”

Ellis sees his new role as an opportunity to educate the public about the benefits of well-planned, mixed-use, mixed-income development near public transit; and spark greater public involvement in local decision-making.

“I’m eager to help more people take a more active and informed role in shaping their communities. The region is changing so quickly, and it’s vital to include new and existing voices in conversations on our future. Development decisions affect nearly every aspect of our lives, from where we can afford to live, to how we get around, to the water that we drink,” said Ellis. “Through tools such as GIS, and implementation of best development practices, my work as part of MPC’s Community Building Initiative will help communities and individuals make better choices for themselves and the Chicago region.”

Jernigan comes to MPC well prepared to accelerate employer-assisted housing (EAH) participation in the suburbs. MPC introduced EAH in northeastern Illinois in 2000; today, more than 60 Illinois employers are helping their employees become homeowners through downpayment assistance and free homeownership counseling. Federal, state and municipal leaders have backed EAH 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.

“In her role with the University of Chicago/University of Chicago Hospitals’ enormously successful employer-assisted housing program, Lillie Jernigan helped more than 400 people move closer to their dreams of homeownership,” said Barrett. “Now she’s come aboard at MPC to help more workers across the region reap the benefits of this workforce housing initiative, which has become a nationwide model.”

Jernigan has a bachelor’s degree in integrative studies from George Mason University in Fairfax, Vir., and has held a variety of positions in the social services field. She’s looking forward to growing the EAH program, which brings together the public and private sectors to address a major societal need: affordable, workforce housing. Across the greater Chicago metropolitan region, homeownership is increasingly out of reach for hundreds of thousands of working families. EAH programs are a proven way to help people like Dannetta Smith – a 39-year-old mother of two, and, until recently, a lifelong renter – purchase their own homes. Smith recently bought a home in Park Forest near her job at St. James Hospital and Health Centers’ Chicago Heights campus. She says she couldn’t have done it without the invaluable homeownership counseling and downpayment assistance she received through St. James’ EAH program.

Jernigan knows there are many more like Smith who would benefit from EAH.

“I often have wondered why there is not more evidence of collaboration between governmental agencies, social service organizations, and corporations,” said Jernigan. “That’s why I’m so pleased to be part of an organization that focuses on these integral connections and brings parties together for educated planning.”

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.

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