By Ginger Downs, RCE, CAE, IOM
Chief Executive Officer
Chicago Association of Realtors
Home ownership is viewed by some as a privilege. By others, it’s a daunting financial challenge. Since June has been designated by President Bush as “National Home Ownership Month,” this is the perfect time to think about how we, as Realtors, can reach out to the millions of Americans for whom home ownership seems a non-achievable dream.
The sad reality is that, while the cost of living has and will continue to increase throughout American cities, wages have remained stagnant. Too often, people are unable to afford homes in the neighborhoods where they work or their children attend school. Inconvenienced by long and expensive commutes and restricted by their financial means, some residents have no choice but to live in undesirable conditions or unsafe neighborhoods, which is truly unacceptable in this country.
The Realtors feel strongly that all consumers should have access to resources that educate and guide them through the process of finding and owning or renting a suitable home. Through the Housing Opportunity Program, established by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) in 2002, our mission is “to position, educate and assist Realtors as leaders in identifying, developing, advocating for, and promoting business opportunities, programs, products, and resources that…ensure an adequate supply of housing opportunities for all in both the rental and home ownership sectors of the market.”
The City of Chicago has already begun to recognize the importance of this issue. In May 2007, Mayor Richard Daley and the Chicago City Council approved a new Affordable Housing Policy, which increases the number of affordable residences throughout the city. This new policy is expected to produce about 1,000 units of affordable housing each year. The Chicago Department of Housing is creating affordable opportunities for those with special needs, seniors, the homeless and other Chicagoans in desperate need of sufficient housing. Through the city’s “New Homes for Chicago” program, which provides city-owned land and financial assistance to developers and homebuyers, entire communities are being strengthened and neighborhoods revitalized. Just last month, the Chicago Association of Realtors (Chicago Realtors) awarded its most distinguished Good Neighbor Award to the “New Homes for Englewood” development, built by Karry L. Young Development through the “New Homes for Chicago” program.
There are many ways that you can get involved at the local and national levels. NAR has partnered with Habitat for Humanity to generate funds and construct homes along the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast. Realtors have helped to raise $75,000 per home to cover costs of land and building materials. Also in partnership with Habitat for Humanity, the Global Village volunteer program enables teams of eight to 20 Realtors to spend a week constructing new homes in disaster areas, such as those affected by Hurricane Katrina.
Through the Home From Work training program, Realtors are learning how to reach out to public- and private-sector employers to help implement employer-assisted housing (EAH). Realtors participate in a three-hour training course and learn how to use grassroots efforts to educate employers about the benefits of an EAH program. To sign up for a course or to find out how to gain certification to become a course instructor, visit realtor.org/association_executives/natnlhomeownermonth/index.html.
Here in Chicago, the Emergency Fund provides immediate financial assistance to help Chicago-area low-income individuals and families through a crisis or transition. Since 1973, this organization has provided an indispensable safety net in the form of shelter, food, utility payments, medication and other items for Chicago’s neediest residents. Additionally, the Emergency Fund has been selected as the 2007 recipient for the State Homeless Prevention Fund.
Chicago Realtors (the Chicago Association of Realtors), “The Voice for Real Estate in Chicago” since 1883, represents the business interests of more than 17,000 real estate professionals in the Chicagoland area. Chicago Realtors is led by a voluntary board of directors, elected by the membership, who work in partnership with a professional administrative staff.