Housing Helpers, Inc. (HH) is a local non-profit housing rehabilitation and advocacy organization with a strategic and sustainable plan focused on the recovery and stabilization of Maywood's single-family housing stock. Through the generosity of its partners, HH is able to acquire vacant and abandoned properties that are a blight to their neighborhoods. These often vandalized houses are brought back to life through thoughtful renovation to become an asset to the block, setting standards for quality and property values. HH’s rehab goal is to repair or replace all the major mechanicals leaving each house as energy efficient as the project budget will allow, while eliminating major expenditures for the next ten years. Actualizing these goals is what makes a home truly affordable to working families. Once the home’s beauty is restored, HH sells the house to a family that meets its low to moderate income requirements.
Housing Helpers is dedicated to homeownership as a means to revitalize and stabilize the Village of Maywood. For almost thirty years Housing Helpers has been at the forefront of the fight against foreclosures in Maywood. We have been witness to the devastating affects it has had on our community. The process of foreclosure has uprooted and displaced a third of our homeowners in the last ten years. During that time Maywood saw a dramatic upsurge in the spread of blight, as vacant, and often poorly-secured properties became eyesores, attractive targets of vandalism and "squatters", and proved to be an attractive haven for gang and drug activity. In the face of the destabilization of Maywood's housing stock and market, Housing Helpers (HH) has been "hands-on" in working to restore our single-family homes.
Housing Helpers was founded in 1990 by Vera Fina, who was a member of the pastoral care staff of St James Church, once located at 6th Ave and Maple St in Maywood, to address growing concerns about affordable housing for its parishioners. Mrs. Fina assembled a board of directors from the church and community to provide input and direction for the new organization. After pooling their funds, Mrs. Fina was able to acquired their first tax-delinquent, vacant house for redevelopment. Upon completion, the home was sold to a pre-qualified family in need of affordable housing, accomplishing their mission.
For the next fifteen years Mrs. Fina and HH partnered with its community banks to purchase and redevelop over twenty homes that were then sold to qualified home owners. As a means to identify and attract buyers, HH convened first time homeownership workshops to educate future buyers on the sales process. By giving them direct access to lenders, inspectors, attorneys, and HUD certified counselors, prospective buyers were able to get the answers they needed to concerns preventing them from entering the market.
In 2009 the Coalition for Community Banking was established as a response to the FDIC shutting down and seizing Maywood’s and Housing Helper’s community partner bank, Park Bank. The Coalition demanded that the new bank owners, US Bank, continue to fulfill the commitments that Park Bank had invested in its surrounding communities. As a leader on the steering committee, Housing Helper’s current Executive Director and Maywood resident, Sarah Lira, advocated for a community benefits agreement between US Bank and the Coalition. The resulting Community Restoration Fund (CRF) awarded the Coalition with funding for direct investing in housing and jobs. Housing Helpers was fortunate to be awarded $300,000 to purchase and redevelop three vacant houses. We also had the opportunity to partner with another local non-profit to provide pre-apprentice construction job training on our project sites. The CRF resulted in three beautiful houses back on the tax roll, and thirty-six previously incarcerated young adults received hands-on training in the construction trades.
Housing Helpers has since leveraged their experience with the CRF to build capacity and funding in partnership with Illinois Housing Development Authority through their Illinois Building Blocks Pilot Program Grant. The partnership yielded nine redeveloped affordable homes in Maywood, and the attention of a community bank needing to reinvest within Proviso Township. This new partnership with Proviso Community Bank has produced new stability and efficiencies within our organization. We are grateful for the line of credit that allows us to expand our renovation capacity. With Proviso Community Bank's support Housing Helpers is able to have a more significant impact on the more than thousand homes that went through the foreclosure process.
Housing Helpers future plans are to expand programming around homeownership issues and job creation. Check back to see how we are helping to rebuild our community one house at a time.