By Josh Schonwald

Five years ago, owning a home was nearly unthinkable for Edna Williams-Foreman, an alumni service representative at the University.

As a recent divorcee with two children and a credit score of 499, she even struggled to find a place to rent. But now Williams-Foreman is the proud owner of a condo on S. Dorchester Ave. in Woodlawn.

Thanks to the University’s Employer Assisted Housing Program (PDF) (EAHP), she was able to buy her current home in a community that she has lived within, and loved, throughout her entire adult life.

“This community is like a family to me,” she says. “To be able to live and to work in this community is tremendous.”

Interest-free loan

Launched in May 2003 to promote homeownership and investment in targeted redeveloping neighborhoods on the mid-South Side, EAHP provides homebuyer assistance in the form of interest-free forgivable loans, as well as credit and homebuyer counseling services. Eligible employees receive an interest-free $7,500 loan toward down payment and closing costs when they purchase a home within the program’s target areas. The assistance is forgiven over five years provided the employee resides in the house as a primary home, continues to be employed by the University or Medical Center, and participates in homeownership counseling. In addition, an employee must contribute 3 percent of the purchase price of the home toward the down payment.

“It was like a dream,” Williams-Foreman recalls. “I was like, ‘Are you kidding me, I’m going to help with my down payment?’ It would have taken me years to save that kind of money. I had to pinch myself!”

Homeownership courses

The homeownership courses offered by Neighborhood Housing Services as a part of the EAH Program were extremely helpful. These courses helped build Williams-Foreman's understanding of the importance of good credit (she now has a credit score of 793). And thanks to her NHS counselor’s keen eyes, she managed to avoid falling prey to subprime mortgage lending scam.

“My counselor told me, ‘This is a mistake and later you will thank me,’” Williams-Foreman recalls. “She gave me the courage to improve my finances and apply for a real mortgage. Now my mortgage payments are less than my rent.”

Williams-Foreman’s life is anchored in this community. Her 17-year-old daughter, Jaqueline, attends Kenwood Academy and her 16-year-old son, James, attends the University of Chicago charter high school’s Woodlawn campus. Williams-Foreman not only serves as president of the parent teacher community organization at her son’s high school, she is also a steward member of St. Mark AME Zion church. Her children are no less committed, with Jaqueline singing in the choir and James serving as the church’s cameraman.

Investing in the future

Williams-Foreman emphasizes what this program means to her as a single parent, and the importance of passing down the value of homeownership to her children. She proudly mentions the fact that her eldest son, Jerry Anderson, bought his first condo at the age of 24 and is now wrapping up his master's degree in telecommunications management.

“We’re homeowners now, we own those walls. And now I have something to pass down to my children,” she states. The program has not only benefited her family, but the entire area surrounding the University, according to Williams-Foreman. “You can see the change,” she states. “Six years ago I wouldn’t have even driven past this block, and now I am proud to say that I live here.”

Originally published on July 14, 2008.