My wake-up call at the "venerable" but threadbare, Congress Plaza Hotel in Chicago came right on time this morning. I am here for a NAR conference. Dog-tired from a long flight the night before as the sun rose over Lake Michigan, I was anxious for the day to begin. First order of business… hot coffee, hot bath, hot coffee. Unfortunately the Congress which was a favorite of President Grover Cleveland's has the same water heater installed at the time of the 1893 Chicago Worlds Fair. Accordingly, no hot water. Accordingly, lightening fast ice cold shower and a very painful shave. Dressing quickly, I run down nine flights of stairs to get the blood flowing.
I arrive on the second floor excited about beginning two full days of intensive learning about workforce and employer-assisted housing. I become increasingly aware as the day goes on, of literally dozens of creative new initiatives designed to make housing affordable for thousands of eligible American workers. One such program outlined by our keynote speaker described a program offered by Aurora Healthcare in Milwaukee in partnership with a local housing office. Aurora was having trouble attracting and retaining healthcare workers because of the lack of affordable housing near hospital facilities. They now offer valued employees homebuyer counseling and give employees interested in buying a home in the city a direct payment of $3,000 to help with down payments and closing costs. For nearly 20 employees each year it is the difference between renting and commuting and deciding to buy a home within walking or biking distance to work.
There are hundreds of employers all over the country providing similar programs. Their participation is predicated on the belief that homeownership builds wealth, promotes stronger families and produces healthier communities. An added benefit for employers is reduced turnover and higher productivity. A surprise for me was discovering that our very own AAR received a $140,000 grant to encourage the development of an Arizona program. The effort is still being developed but in the meantime, AAR has initiated an effort with their own employees which can provide $5,000 to eligible Association staff. So far they have reported grants to seven AAR employees and two employees of local associations.
More recently the Maricopa County industrial Development Authority has launched a Home in Five Program that also provides direct grants to new homeowners. When I return from Chicago and get my hot bath and shave, I'll produce a more complete report on this program. Homeownership remains a bedrock strategy for healthy communities and SAAR wants to make sure we are well-informed of all the current and emerging strategies to help our children and our neighbors achieve the American dream of owning a home.
If you want to discuss employer assisted housing strategies and programs, give me a call.
John C. Little, Jr.
Community Affairs Director
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