Dr. Vladimir Liarski used to spend up to 90 minutes a day commuting to and from his job as a clinical instructor at the University of Chicago Medicine. After purchasing a new home in the economically diverse North Kenwood neighborhood, with down-payment assistance from the University’s Employer-Assisted Housing Program, he bikes to work most days. If he drives, it takes him just five minutes each way.
Liarski is one of 10 University employees to participate in the program since it was revamped in October 2014 to provide more incentives for UChicago employees to live near the University. The program also supports broader efforts to help spur economic growth in mid-South Side neighborhoods.
“The major thing for me is convenience to work,” he said. “I also like (North Kenwood) because it is still within the city, but it is much quieter and more livable than other places in terms of traffic. It’s the best of both worlds in that the area is green and accessible to work.”
Over the last four years, redevelopment efforts—led by the University in partnership with the city, local community and elected officials—have produced a tide of investment in and around the Hyde Park-Kenwood area. Along Hyde Park’s 53rd Street commercial corridor, specifically, redevelopment has resulted in more than two dozen new businesses and created more than 1,100 new jobs. The Employer-Assisted Housing Program makes it easier for University and Medical Center employees to both simplify their work commute and take advantage of the area’s bustling development.
“The Employer-Assisted Housing Program represents one of many investments the University is making in Woodlawn, Washington Park and seven other mid-South Side communities,” said Derek Douglas, vice president for civic engagement. “The relaunched program establishes more incentives for employees to be part of strengthening area neighborhoods through their critical investment in housing, which is essential to successful economic development.”
The University created the program in 2003 with two primary goals: to support a stronger mid-South Side by encouraging employees to purchase homes in neighborhoods surrounding the campus and to improve employee access to local homeownership opportunities. The program offers a larger down payment and a rental option for employees moving into a designated Woodlawn Focus Area, where the University’s South Campus is located. The revamp also removed income limits in most communities to encourage more employees to move to the mid-South Side.
Since 2003, almost 240 employees have taken advantage of the Employer-Assisted Housing Program, representing more than $47 million in home purchases. Currently, nearly one in three University and Medical Center staff members lives in the vicinity of the campus, and that number is set to climb as more staff seek enrollment. The program is also open to UChicago faculty.
Lorice Pullins, a registered nurse at the medical center, was the first UChicago Medicine employee to purchase a home with the program since it was relaunched. She and her husband moved into a two-flat in Bronzeville/Douglas in April 2015, and she has high praise for the growth occurring in her neighborhood. “I am glad to be a part of this regeneration,” Pullins said. “It’s wonderful to see it and hear about it, but to actually be living in the middle of it as it is developing is very exciting.”
After spending two years looking for a new home, Espinola Woolfolk, an employee in the University’s accounts payable department, moved in April into a two-unit building in Woodlawn that she shares with her husband and daughter. “I think it’s an excellent program with the way they’ve revamped it and the information that is available—from the beginning in finding the right place to the very end when you purchase,” Woolfolk said.
Home loans ranging from $2,500 to $10,000 are available to all full-time, benefits-eligible employees who purchase homes in one of nine neighborhoods stretching from 26th Street to the north, 79th Street to the south, the lakefront to the east and just off the Dan Ryan Expressway to the west. The Employer-Assisted Housing Program neighborhoods are Douglas, Grand Boulevard, Greater Grand Crossing, Hyde Park/South Kenwood, North Kenwood, Oakland, South Shore, Washington Park and Woodlawn.
All employees must contribute a down payment of at least 3.5 percent of the home purchase price, and loans are forgiven after five years of University employment as long as the purchased home remains the employee’s primary residence.