Home sweet home: Employer Assisted Housing program helps workers buy their own homes - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Home sweet home: Employer Assisted Housing program helps workers buy their own homes

"Home" evokes many images.

Innumerable phrases have been written about that special place — usually paired with such terms as "warm," "sweet," "loving" and "comfortable."

And, like Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz," Dannetta Smith of Park Forest knows firsthand that "There's no place like home."

An innovative program, Employer Assisted Housing , helped Smith purchase a home, with financial help provided by her employer — St. James Hospital and Health Centers .

Smith, a patient care coordinator at the Chicago Heights facility, has been with the hospital for 12 years.

The EAH program, sponsored and endorsed by the Metropolitan Planning Council , offers qualified employees "forgivable" loans to purchase a home.

Smith received a $5,000 loan from the hospital toward the purchase of her home.

"I found out about the program through communications at work," Smith said. "About every three months, seminars are offered at the hospital about the program."

Smith said the search for a home and the process was, initially, "very stressful."

Peter Gunn, executive director of the Regional Redevelopment Corp., helped Smith find the right home and the best financing.

The first home Smith was looking to purchase didn't work out.

"He (Gunn) had to come out to the house and check over contracts and everything," she said. "He said the deal wasn't good."

Gunn said Smith was nearly roped into a "predatory loan," that had fees charged to the buyer and seller at higher than normal fees.

"The home also had problems," Gunn said.

"It would need a lot of maintenance and had cracked wooden siding, broken gutters, cracked concrete and other issues."

Homes needing that much work often mean foreclosure for such buyers, he said.

"Usually the buyer closes the deal, has to make any number of needed repairs and then falls short on the mortgage."

Overseeing such details is part of the EAH program, which worked in Smith's favor.

Gunn was determined to keep Smith away from that scenario and, together, they found a more suitable home.

"We found Dannetta a different home that didn't need a lot of work and maintenance," he said.

Gunn said the program, which stipulates owners stay in the home for five years, also provides clients with credit counseling.

"About 75 percent of the clients have some type of credit repairs that must be made. Lenders work with them to clean up credit problems," Gunn said, noting that not all applicants are successful at purchasing a home.

"They get help on homeownership issues, credit counseling and dealing with lenders and (real estate agents).

"In Dannetta's case, we made some credit repairs and secured a loan that was more manageable for her."

Through another program, Gunn was also able to find an additional $5,000 to use as a down payment. That program was also designed for first-time homebuyers with income ranges, he said.

Smith is grateful for the help offered by Gunn and Chicago-based Park National Bank, which also assisted her through the homebuying process.

"I would recommend this program to any single parent," she said. "It's a wonderful program, but (participants) must have patience and be willing to do the leg work."

Smith said the help from Gunn and Milton Ware at Park National Bank helped her immensely.

The entire process took about one year, "from start to moving day," she said.

Smith said she's helping some friends at work who are interested in the program.

"Someone comes up to me at least once a day asking about the program," she said.

Smith added that she is thrilled to be in her own home and away from renting.

"We moved (to different apartments) six times in five years," she said.

As a single mother, Smith's rent payments were augmented through Section 8, a government program that provides low-income families with payments for rental housing.

"The more money you make, the more the rent is (under that program)," she said.

When her rent rose to $950 per month for a small apartment, Smith "knew it was time to look into the EAH program."

"My credit wasn't so great, but (Park National) walked me through the process and helped me consolidate loans," she said. "I cleaned up my credit problems."

When Smith and her daughters, ages 22 and 15, finally moved into their home in Park Forest , the relief was palpable.

She said the home is ideal for her family with three bedrooms, two baths, kitchen, living room, dining room and family room.

"There's a two-car garage, basketball court and a deck — and it's maintenance free.

"I cried for 10 days," she said. "I was relieved of the pressure and, although the struggle is there, I'm working towards something that's mine."

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