Making Home Ownership Possible

by Chicago Agent

By Ginger Downs, RCE, CAE, IOM
Chief Executive Officer
Chicago Association of Realtors

Home ownership is viewed by some as a privilege and, by others, a daunting financial challenge. 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 where their children attend school. Inconvenienced by long and expensive commutes and restricted by financial means, some residents have no choice but to live in undesirable conditions or unsafe neighborhoods, which is truly unacceptable in this country.

In June, Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee) and other members of the U.S. House of Representatives set out to create an Affordable Housing Trust to help Americans for whom home ownership seems impossible.

H.R. 2895, the bill that would establish a national Affordable Housing Trust, addresses these serious concerns. The legislation proposes producing, rehabbing and preserving 1.5 million housing units within the next decade, and allocates between $800 million and $1 billion per year to state and local communities. As it stands, the bill would not cost tax payers a penny; Chairman Frank said, “Given our severely constrained fiscal realities, we are…creating a low-income housing trust fund that will be paid for in ways that do not draw from federal tax revenues.” The National Association of Realtors (NAR) has expressed its enthusiasm in Chairman Frank’s bill, stating, “Home ownership serves as a cornerstone of our democratic system of government and continues to be a strong personal and social priority for most Americans.”

At press time, H.R. 2895 is in deliberation on the House floor, but you don’t need to wait for its passage to support local affordable housing initiatives.

We feel strongly that all consumers should have access to resources which educate and guide them through the process of finding and owning or renting a suitable home. Through the Housing Opportunity Program, established by 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.

The Chicago REALTORS have partnered with the Emergency Fund, which was selected as the 2007 recipient for the State Homeless Prevention Fund. 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. On June 29, the Chicago REALTORS held their centennial Golf Outing at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club and donated all proceeds from the raffle and silent auction to the Emergency Fund. The board of directors was glad to match that donation. Your office can get involved with the Emergency Fund; simply visit Emergencyfund.org.

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 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.

Chicago REALTORS, “The Voice for Real Estate in Chicago” since 1883, represents the business interests of more than 17,000 real estate professionals in Chicagoland. Chicago REALTORS is led by a voluntary board of directors, elected by the membership, who works in partnership with a professional administrative staff.

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