Employer-Assisted Housing helps turn American dream of homeownership into a reality for U.S. immigrants - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Employer-Assisted Housing helps turn American dream of homeownership into a reality for U.S. immigrants

Purchasing a home can be intimidating for anyone, however immigrants can face special challenges; Employer-Assisted Housing can help.

When Rifat Hasina received notification that her Hyde Park apartment was being torn down and replaced with university housing; she was forced to quickly evaluate her next move. “I had been thinking of buying my own place, because at the time I had been renting for years and wanted to move,” said Hasina, a research professional associate of pathology at the University of Chicago (U of C). With only the standard three-month notice, Hasina did decide she wanted to purchase her own home, but, was uncertain exactly how to begin.

Hasina, who migrated from Bangladesh eight years ago, knew she had a lot to learn, in addition to the daunting task of raising an adequate down payment in just 90 days. Having worked for the U of C for the past five years, she was always aware of the independent Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago (NHS) organization office located on campus. However, it wasn’t until she was in a crunch that the university’s Employer-Assisted Housing (EAH) program, facilitated by the NHS, emerged as the logical solution to her extenuating circumstances. “I could have rented again, but I wanted to buy my home, so I decided to take advantage of the Employer-Assisted Housing program,” said Hasina.

The university’s downpayment assistance, which Hasina only has to pay back if she leaves her job or moves from the house, was especially beneficial for the single mother and her 14-year-old son, Rafi Khan. Hasina believes the training and counseling provided by the NHS through the university’s EAH program also assisted her tremendously, particularly alerting her to red flags during the home-buying process. “I didn’t have anyone as far as a guardian, or a friend to help, so the training provided through Neighborhood Housing Services was very beneficial,” said Hasina.

REACH (Regional Employee Assisted Collaboration for Housing) Illinois partners currently work with more than 65 companies statewide—including Chicago Public Schools, Allstate Corporation, and Seaquist Perfect Dispensing in Cary, Ill.—to provide what Robin Snyderman , housing director for the nonprofit Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), calls “an economical way for employers to; increase employee retention and attendance, while decreasing the stress and headache of their lengthy commutes. Ultimately, EAH serves as a form of reinvestment in their respective communities.”

She added, “The program accomplishes all of these things by offering downpayment and closing cost assistance or rental assistance, in addition to offering step-by-step homeownership courses for the employees, as well as working with them to reduce poor credit histories, when applicable, to improve poor credit histories when necessary.” MPC originally introduced the EAH model in Illinois in 2000, with System Sensor , a subsidiary of Honeywell, as the pilot employer.

Michael Van Zalingen, director of NHS, considers EAH to be “a double bonus for the employer, as a general proposition, because it gives the employee a close place to live, while also providing an incentive to stay employed.” NHS has several bi-lingual liaisons who serve as bridges between employees and home ownership in the communities where they work in, which, in Van Zalingen’s opinion, “becomes like a welcome wagon provided by the employer that breeds new life into America .”

NHS has played a pivotal role in furthering EAH, which has proven to be especially valuable for immigrants. As the number of home foreclosures in the U.S. , and more specifically in Illinois , continues to rise, immigrants continue to be among those at greatest at risk of losing their homes as a result of predatory lending and other nefarious aspects of the home-lending landscape. Van Zalingen believes that for the large population of immigrants NHS serves, “the eight-hour homebuyer course, as well as the education in property laws, credit reporting, understanding mortgages, objective information, and overall explanation as to how they become part of the American process is a great help.”

EAH also benefits participating employers. “Employees are more likely to remain with the university after they’ve taken advantage of the EAH program,” acknowledged Michelle Olson, Director of External and Government Affairs, “and it provides them another means of savings and economic stability when purchasing a home.”

For Hasina, EAH created the opportunity to be more flexible in her hours and scheduling. “It takes me 10 minutes to get to and from work, so I can stay late or go in early,” mentioned Hasina. The likelihood of her doing either of those things was extremely low before she bought her new place, a two-bedroom condominium in Hyde Park , located just blocks away from the U of C campus.

“Hasina’s story is simply one of more than 1,000 told by employees who have benefited from EAH in the last five years,” Snyderman pointed out. However, as more and more employees look to acquire homes that are closer to their places of employment, it will be even more imperative that employers offer a service that Hasina described as “a very good program, that’s not very complicated, and has benefits that far exceed the paperwork and expectations of it.”

As a population boom driven largely by immigration increases, the need for housing located closer to jobs—and with it, the need for individuals and agencies committed to and able to help that happen will rise as well. Organizations such as NHS, University of Chicago, and MPC are working together to provide a roadmap via EAH that shows how to assist immigrants and native employees alike in turning the American dream into a reality.

For more information, contact Mario A. Reed, MPC’s communications intern, at 312.863.6075 or mreed@metroplanning.org as well as Mandy Burrell, MPC’s media associate at 312.863.6018 or mburrell@metroplanning.org .

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