Authored with Breann Gala, MPC Research Assistant
In spring 2011, the Community Bank of Oak Park River Forest partnered with Oak Park Regional Housing Center (OPRHC) and Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) to design an employer-assisted housing (EAH) program for the staff of their west suburban bank branches in Oak Park and River Forest. The bank was inspired to add an EAH offering to their benefits package after attending a Charter One Workforce Housing Initiative event in the summer of 2010. Through the event, west suburban Cook County mayors convened employers and civic groups to discuss ways to improve homeownership opportunities and stabilize communities through EAH and other local programs.
The Initiative grew out of the West Cook County Housing Collaborative, which brought together six municipalities to target and obtain federal funding through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP). The collaborative received $7 million dollars in funding to address the foreclosure crisis in the west Cook County suburbs, and continues to work together to find ways to enhance local community and economic development related to NSP and beyond. Community Bank has shown a dedication to community reinvestment through the development of their EAH program, and has been committed to building strong communities in the western suburbs.
Claude L’Heureux, senior vice president, Community Bank’s Loan Department, recognizes how the emerging EAH program further connects the bank to its local communities. “We are very excited to be the first local business to provide the Employer-Assisted Housing program for our employees," she said. "As the community’s bank, we take pride in the fact that our employees are from the community and live in the community. By partnering with the Oak Park Regional Housing Center and the Metropolitan Planning Council, we can ensure that everyone has the opportunity to live in the community in which they serve.” Though there are dozens of companies offering EAH programs throughout the region, Community Bank is the first west suburban-based employer opting to support their workforce and communities through local housing assistance.
Community Bank and the OPRHC have a long history of collaboration, which creates a natural fit for program implementation. The OPRHC’s objectives are to promote diverse and integrated communities by providing assistance to housing seekers during all phases of the rental or home purchase cycle. OPRHC is well positioned to provide technical assistance to Community Bank’s employees. Community Bank is offering assistance of up to $5,000 each for two employees a year, and with plans to refer additional employees to the pre-purchase counseling and education services. Like most EAH programs, Community Bank’s EAH program does not specify exactly where an employee must buy a home. Eligible staff will have a radius of 15 miles in which to find the home of their choice for purchase.
“Community Bank understood the value of an EAH program from the moment we first approached them," said OPRHC’s Executive Director Rob Breymaier. "It’s a win-win-win for the employees, the bank, and the community. We are looking forward to working with other local employers so they and their employees can benefit from the advantages they gain from EAH programs.”
Village President David Pope has been a strong supporter of these public-private partnerships and encourages Oak Park employers to participate. "For decades Oak Park has worked hard to maintain a balanced mix of homes so that workers at all income levels can call our village home," he said. "Collaboration has been key to success: Without support from local lenders, the business community, nonprofits, and other partners, Oak Park would not be the diverse, integrated community that it is. The Community Bank of Oak Park River Forest is one of those partners who understands it's up to all of us to create a community where we can live, work and play".
By implementing an EAH program, the Community Bank of Oak Park River Forest demonstrates its leadership and commitment in the western suburbs by ensuring that home buyers are informed and prepared for homeownership, thus creating stable homeowners and community residents. Congratulations, Community Bank, for launching an EAH benefit! MPC, President Pope, and the Oak Park Regional Housing Center commend you for becoming the first locally based employer to do so...and expect others to follow your leadership!
For more information on how employers can invest in their employees, thereby reducing absenteeism and increasing loyalty, invest in their community through promoting homeownership, and help protect the environment by decreasing commute times, please contact me, Lillie Sellers, at (312) 863-6005 or LSellers@metroplanning.org.