In a Nutshell: An overwhelming majority of Chicago residents fall into the low- and middle-income categories, which means becoming and remaining a homeowner can be a challenge. Since 1975, Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago (NHS) has been providing assistance to residents of the Windy City through educational workshops and other resources. Whether they are looking at buying a new home, rehabilitating their current home, or looking for ways to avoid foreclosure, NHS is there to help. And through its sister company, Neighborhood Lending Services, the organization is able to provide mortgage and rehab loans to consumers who may not otherwise qualify due to their credit history.
Purchasing a home is no small feat for many Americans.
And in a city like Chicago — where 62% of census tracts are classified as lower-income areas and only 16% are classified as middle income — becoming a homeowner can be even more challenging. The Windy City is also the third-largest in the U.S., which means that’s a whole lot of people who fall outside of the higher income category.
Thankfully, Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago (NHS) is there to assist Chicagoans in becoming homeowners and helping current homeowners stay in their homes.
“We’re turning 45 this year, and our primary mission is to make affordable homeownership a reality for low- to middle-income families,” said Tiffany Smith, Neighborhood Strategy Coordinator for NHS. “Our mantra is that we help people buy, fix, and keep their homes. So, not just getting them into a home but helping them to appreciate the value and create generational wealth.”
Since NHS launched in 1975, the nonprofit has served nearly 235,000 families, loaned borrowers more than $644 million to buy, fix, or keep their homes, and educated more than 44,000 potential new homebuyers.
It has also provided foreclosure education to approximately 34,000 homeowners and saved more than 10,000 families from foreclosure.
We recently spoke to Smith about how NHS educates consumers to become homeowners, how it can connect them with loans through its sister organization — Neighborhood Lending Services of Chicago — and how it helps Chicago residents stay in their homes.
Preparing Homeowners for Their Journey Through Classes and Other Resources
“That mantra — buy, fix, keep — is very important,” Smith said. “We really want to make sure folks are fully aware of what homeownership means, both from a responsibility standpoint as well as the benefits of it.”
That translates to a huge focus on education efforts, she said.
“We have prepared thousands of new homeowners through our Financial Fresh Start and Home Buyer Education workshops,” according to the NHS website. “Our certified homeownership consultants provide one-on-one counseling; they listen, advise, and develop a customized plan to help you become and remain a successful homeowner.”
Smith said the organization has certified counselors in its central office and in each of its neighborhood hubs throughout the NHS service area of Chicago and South Suburban Cook County.
“There is a lot of face-to-face interaction,” she said. “And it is required that the first engagement is done in person because we want to establish that relationship with you because it’s a trust factor. And we are your partner in homeownership.”
As a HUD-certified class that is required for a number of loans, the Home Buyer Education workshops are among the most popular at NHS, Smith said. The Financial Fresh Start course is also popular because it is geared toward people who are burdened by debt or less-than-stellar credit. The program helps them understand a path to realizing their dreams of homeownership, she said.
“Just this year, we rolled out a student debt management workshop,” Smith said. “Because what we’re finding is that although folks may have the day-to-day finances handled pretty well, when you compound high levels of student debt on top of that, they just don’t see a way forward.”
The nonprofit also hosts a number of other workshops throughout the year on a number of different topics. These Special Topics workshops have addressed homeowner issues such as fire prevention, home security, and even estate planning.
Additionally, the NHS website includes links to numerous other valuable resources for potential homebuyers.
Helping Current Homeowners Fix and Stay in Their Homes
Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago also devotes a significant amount of its efforts toward helping current homeowners address problems with their homes and toward helping others avoid foreclosure.
“We help homeowners through the entire home repair process. From finding contractors to making sure your home is safe and secure,” according to the NHS website. “Our construction specialists have more than 150 years of combined experience working in the construction field. They make sure all homes meet Housing Quality Standards (HQS).”
Construction Specialists are able to create a detailed scope of work for the homeowner, assist in finding qualified contractors to complete construction work, assist in procuring estimates and proposals, and inspect work to ensure quality. The specialists will be available to the homeowner through the construction project or projects to answer any questions.
In addition to providing educational resources, NHS may also be able to assist certain homeowners with grants to improve the health, safety, affordability, and functionality of their homes.
“Grants are available for low-to-moderate-income households in targeted areas of Chicago for specific categories of repairs or other needs (e.g. exterior rehab or flood prevention),” according to the organization. “Each year a limited number of grants are available for each program.”
Smith said that NHS provides ways for homeowners who are falling behind on their mortgage payments to learn how to prevent and avoid foreclosure. How the organization approaches each case depends on how far behind on payments the homeowner is, she said.
“Homeowners will receive one-on-one support from a certified housing consultant who will assess your current financial and mortgage situation,” according to the website. “The housing consultant will work to identify a solution to help you make your home more affordable and assess foreclosure prevention options.”
Options many include mortgage assistance programs and refinancing programs.
Providing Loans Through Its Sister Company, Neighborhood Lending Services
Smith explained how NHS is able to assist qualifying Chicago residents even further by providing loans through its sister company, Neighborhood Lending Services.
“We receive our funding from larger banks and lenders,” she said. “And we’re able to look beyond the credit score.”
That means consumers who may not qualify for loans through other financial institutions may find hope through NHS.
“Those who are not quite up to the traditional bank loan standard, but they have gone through the education, they show strong bill payment history — we can then make those loans to those folks,” Smith said.
Through Neighborhood Lending Services, borrowers may be able to purchase a home with a down payment as low as 3% and also avoid private mortgage insurance requirements.
The lending arm also provides similar services for home rehabilitation projects.
“Whether you’re purchasing, refinancing, or rehabbing a home, NLS will help identify any down payment and/or closing cost assistance, or grant programs for which you may qualify,” according to the NHS website.
The affordable, fixed-rate loans for home improvement projects come with terms of up to 20 years and carry no prepayment penalties.
“I just think homeownership is such a gift that you can give not just to yourself, but to the generations beyond that,” Smith said. And it is worth the effort and the hard work and the sacrifice to commit to doing it. We’re out here to help, and I encourage people to reach out to us.”
She said while NHS serves the Chicago area, similar organizations exist for residents in other cities and other states, and she encourages people to contact them.
“There are people who are out there to help you realize the dream of homeownership,” Smith said.