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SDAR crafts a solution to workforce housing crisis

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In an effort to add another solution to San Diego's workforce housing crisis, the San Diego Association of Realtors (SDAR) has created an Employer Assisted Housing Program (EAHP), a groundbreaking approach to help some of the many workers with mid-range incomes who have been squeezed out of the dream of homeownership in San Diego.

The EAHP is a unique partnership between area employers and groups of Realtors, real estate industry professionals, and community organizations. It is designed as a benefit that employers can offer to their employees to help them purchase their first homes.

The EAHP provides employers the means to assist workers with financing options, to offer access to funding sources available only through the program, and to provide vital education to first-time homebuyers. Employers contribute through funding a portion of down payments or closing costs in the form of matched savings, grants or loans to qualifying employees.

SDAR's Housing Opportunities Committee (HOC) created the EAHP with financial assistance from the California Association of Realtors Housing Affordability Fund (HAF). The HOC launched a pilot program in late 2003 for SDAR employees. The HAF grant served as the funding source that will come from employers in the program that has been introduced to the public.

The first association employee who qualified for the EAHP pilot, webmaster David Humphrey, recently completed the purchase of his first home, and two additional employees have since qualified and are now attending homebuyer education sessions. The HOC used its experiences with SDAR's employees to continually hone the EAHP's program elements in preparation for its public launch.

Unique approaches

The EAHP is unique in several ways. Unlike existing programs, it leverages funds and expertise from the private sectors, rather than solely from community or government sources. It aims to serve buyers with mid-range incomes, unlike programs that now serve low- to moderate-income families, or corporate relocation packages offered only to top-line management. And it gives all parties - employers, their workers and EAHP partners - the opportunity to benefit in the long run, which in turn creates the opportunity for a self-sustaining program with exponential paybacks.

"The Employer Assisted Housing Program is a fine example of our ability to bring together real estate professionals to create housing solutions in our communities," said 2005 SDAR President Roni Telmosse. "We were very proud to see the first employee close on his home, which he says he could not have accomplished without the help of this program and the people who created it."

Telmosse praises the approach the HOC adopted in which everyone can benefit.

"This reflects the way that good Realtors put together difficult transactions so that all parties are satisfied by the outcome. The EAHP has a little something for everyone, from the employer to the workers, from the real estate professionals to the community at large."

Program benefits

The EAHP benefits employers by improving employee recruitment and retention, reducing turnover costs, and enhancing the company's image in the eyes of the employees and the community at large. Employers get assistance in designing and implementing EAHP features to best fit their needs.

Employees benefit through education on financial and homebuying processes, assistance in "closing the gap" on down payment and closing costs, and expert advice and service from industry professionals. These include Realtors and representatives of lending, title, escrow and insurance companies. The San Diego Housing Commission serves as the EAHP program administrator, and Community HousingWorks provides education and other services.

"We continue to expand our team and hone this program," said K.J. Koljonen, 2005 Chair of SDAR's Housing Opportunities Committee, who with member Tila Cota had done much of the legwork in organizing the EAHP pilot. "We're introducing it incrementally among some of the participating companies that are providing the services so that we can continually improve the processes we'll implement on a larger scale."

The HOC is working with several area employers who are interested in implementing the program.

"Everywhere we've presented it, such as at the Chamber of Commerce, we've gotten an overwhelmingly positive reception," said Koljonen.

Employers interested in the EAHP can contact SDAR at (858) 614-4726 or e-mail govaffairs@sdar.com.

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