Signs such as this one on Dodge Avenue denote affordable housing available through the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program. The City received 8 million in NSP2 funds to rehab homes in the Fifth and Eighth wards.

The City of Evanston has begun its three-year-long process of purchasing and rehabbing 100 foreclosed properties in Evanston and selling them at affordable prices. With Northbrook-based Brinshore Development as its private partner, the City will spend an $18.1 million grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on the project, subcontracting locally for at least some of the projects. The goal is to return 100 units to the marketplace and then to sell or rent them at affordable prices, with the target buyers or renters being people who already live or work in Evanston.

The City, its private-developer partner Brinshore Development and the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) say the crop of 100 new or rehabbed housing units presents an opportunity for Evanston employers to induce their employees to live closer to where they work.

At a meeting for local employers held on Dec. 6 at the Ecology Center, Lillie Sellers of MPC, Todd Lieberman of Brinshore and Jolene Saul of the City of Evanston described the qualification process for prospective buyers and the benefits of employer-assisted housing.

Target Purchasers

According to the City, under HUD requirements, households whose income is at or below 120 percent of the area median income (AMI) may be eligible to purchase Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2 homes, and at least 25 percent of all NSP2 funds must be spent on housing that benefits households whose income is at or below 50 percent of the AMI. Income levels for 120 percent of the AMI range from $63,000 for a one-person household to $97,400 for a five-person household. Ms. Saul said the expected income range for purchase of NSP2 homes is $40,000-$90,000.

To purchase one of the NSP2 units, prospective buyers must be income-eligible, must be prequalified for a first mortgage, must plan to reside in the unit and must participate in an eight-hour counseling session about home-buying, said Ms. Saul.

Brinshore’s Mr. Lieberman said buyers who meet those qualifications may also be eligible for a “forgivable soft mortgage” of $5,000 or even $10,000 depending on certain factors, one of which is the length of time the owner lives in the home.

Employers Can Help

Employers who offer home-buying assistance to their employees will find it pays off in terms of reduced worker turnover, higher productivity and a lowered carbon footprint, as workers who live near their jobs tend to remain with a company, focus better on work and spend less time and fuel commuting, said Ms. Sellers. Employers can assist employees by letting them know about affordable housing in the area, by offering down-payment assistance or even by donating land on which housing can be built, she said.

The nonprofit coalition Regional Employer-Assisted Collaboration for Housing, (REACH Illinois) – created by MPC, Housing Action of Illinois and 15 nonprofit housing-counseling agencies – oversees employer-assisted housing programs.

“Employer-assisted housing programs increase diversity, expand the tax base and offer proximity to public transportation,” Ms. Sellers said.

Representatives of several local businesses and organizations – among them St. Francis Hospital, NorthShore University Health System, Presbyterian Homes, First Bank & Trust, Coldwell Banker, Dempster Auto Rebuilders, Inclusion Solutions and Nature’s Perspective – who attended the meeting said they thought additional information could be helpful in attracting employees.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said, “Making Evanston more livable and affordable for employees, reducing costs of employee turnover and absenteeism, lessens the commute and stabilizes the neighborhood.”

Alderman Delores Holmes, part of whose Fifth Ward is an NSP2 target area, told the attendees, “I just want to tell you that the Fifth Ward is the best-kept secret in Evanston. … You need to come and take a look and encourage your employees to live in Evanston. … Give us a few more years and the Fifth Ward will be the place to be.”