Banks giving home loans to people who shouldn’t have received them played a big part in the creation of the housing bubble which burst a few years ago. Now lending institutions are being so careful that they are not giving loans to some people who should be receiving them. . . if they can just get a little help from a friend.

In many cases that friend may be the West Cook Homeownership Center (WCHC) in Forest Park. “We are a HUD certified housing counseling agency,” said the Center’s director Marz Timms, “where people who are looking for down payment assistance for purchasing a home can receive help.”

A typical scenario, according to Timms, is that people who have been renting and who want to buy a home go to a bank, and the loan officer tells them that there are problems with their credit score or the applicant’s plan for meeting the monthly payment schedule. The officer then tells the applicant to come back when they have their act together but  doesn’t educate them on how to do that.

Homebuyer preparation

That’s where the WCHC can step in and make a critical difference. First, the Center offers an eight hour course, taught at their office at 7740 Madison in Forest Park or at the Oak Park Village Hall, which covers topics like raising your credit score, determining how much you can afford, getting a home inspection, money management, making sure you check out more than one lender and maintaining the investment you have in your home once you close. In some cases the lender might require a certificate from a HUD approved program like the one offered by WCHC.

Downpayment assistance 

Some of these programs require that you be a first time home buyer or a veteran.

“We get a lot of calls,” said Timms, “from people who just want us to give them $10,000.” He emphasized that the Center’s programs are not handouts, they are meant to help get qualified buyers—with an emphasis on qualified—into homes. “You have to have a job and bring in enough money to qualify for a bank loan,” he said.

Program results and history

WCHC served over 300 people last year with 150 of them registered for the eight hour HUD certified homebuyer preparation course. In 2013, 28 homes were purchased in Cook County through the Center’s programs. Timms said that eleven homes in Maywood and Bellwood alone are currently available for purchase.

WCHC is a department of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center (OPRHC) in Oak Park. “To achieve meaningful and lasting diversity throughout Oak Park and the region” is the mission statement posted on the OPRHC website. “During the 1960’s,” the site goes on to explain, “Oak Park studied every aspect of the troubling social changes taking place east of Austin Boulevard and made a concerted effort to bring about an effective approach to integration that would break the patter of block-by-block racial change. Leaders and residents realized that an agency, the Oak Park Housing Center, was needed to guide the development of a stable, integrated community.”

“About six years ago,” said Rob Breymaier the OPRHC Director, “we added a program at our center to provide homeownership counseling and to provide it for all of western Cook County and branded the program as the West Cook Homeownership Center.”

 “On Sep. 1, 2012 we moved our staff to 7740 Madison St. in Forest Park, because we no longer had enough space for everyone and to reinforce the idea that the center is open to everyone,” Breymaier added.

The funders for the WCHC include the West Cook County Housing Collaborative, Cook County, the Illinois Housing Development Authority as well as grants from banks and foundations in the region.

“We’re here every week 9-5 p.m.,” said Timms. “We have two counselors, including one fluent in Spanish, on site who are available to help people purchase homes. We have homes available, so come on through or call 708-771-5801.