Housing program provides loans, strengthens neighborhoods

The Employer Assisted Housing Program provides loans for homes near Washington University.
The Employer Assisted Housing Program provides loans for homes near Washington University.

Skyler Wiseman, an instructional specialist at the Institute for School Partnership, never imagined she would be able to buy a new home until she learned of the Employer Assisted Housing Program at Washington University in St. Louis.

“The program helped cover down payment costs, which made a big difference for me,”  said Wiseman, who purchased a condominium in the Central West End. “The process was incredibly fast and simple.”

Ashley Johnson, director of the housing program, said 2016 has been one of the most successful years in the program’s 20-year history. The program provided more than $90,000 in forgivable loans to 16 employees who have purchased homes in qualifying neighborhoods.

“There is a perception that buying a new home can be cumbersome and scary,” Johnson said. “Our job is to help make it easy.”

Washington University launched the program to stabilize neighborhoods surrounding its campuses — DeBaliviere Place, Forest Park Southeast, Parkview Gardens, Skinker DeBaliviere, University City Northeast, West End and portions of the Central West End. The program provides up to $8,500 in down payment and closing cost assistance to employees who work at least half time at the university. BJC HealthCare employees also are eligible for $4,000 in forgivable loans in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood, also known as the Grove. Such loans are forgivable over a five-year period.

Henry S. Webber, executive vice chancellor for administration, calls the program a success. No employee has defaulted on a loan, and the program’s neighborhoods are getting stronger.

“The university is committed to supporting our employees as well as the neighborhoods that surround our campuses,” Webber said. “The Employer Assisted Housing Program provides an opportunity for us to benefit both; employees receive assistance to invest in their homes, and the neighborhoods benefit from increased investment.”

Employees are staying put even after their loans have been forgiven, Johnson said. That tells her that homeowners appreciate what these unique neighborhoods have to offer. That’s certainly the case for Wiseman, who lives between the Danforth and Medical campuses.

“I enjoy taking public transportation to work and the neighborhood restaurants and yoga studio,” Wiseman said. “But mainly I’ve enjoyed meeting other employees. We have a community here.”

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