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Expanded Program Helps Employees Realize Their Dream of Owning a Home

New homeowners holding a key

A lot goes into finding the perfect home. From choosing a real estate agent and coordinating financing to submitting an offer and completing a home inspection, the process can be overwhelming. But many prospective homebuyers face an additional hurdle: saving enough money for a down payment. 

Homeownership offers safety and stability for individuals and families, as well as increased benefits to neighborhoods. Some employers have begun offering down payment assistance programs to help employees and communities with building generational and economic wealth through homeownership.

Closer Commute, Healthier Outcomes

BJC HealthCare and Washington University are lifting part of the financial burden of buying a home for their employees by expanding their Live Near Your Work (LNYW) homeownership and neighborhood stabilization program, founded in 1997.

The program now provides $12,500 forgivable home loans — an increase of $4,000 — to all benefits-eligible employees who work at least 24 hours per week, whether at a BJC HealthCare facility or remotely. It also now includes more neighborhoods that have faced historic disinvestment, including many in north St. Louis County as well as all communities in the St. Louis Anchor Action Network focus geography. 

"Our expansion to these communities further demonstrates BJC and Wash U’s ongoing investments and commitments to the communities we serve, to neighborhood stabilization and more inclusive economic growth across our region," says Deidre Griffith, vice president of Community Health Improvement for BJC.

David Chunn, community development manager for the Washington University Medical Center Redevelopment Corporation, a partnership between BJC HealthCare and the Washington University School of Medicine, said one of the biggest advantages the LNYW program offers is a closer commute for some employees.

“These employees have shorter commutes driving, walking or bicycling to work,” Chunn said. “Healthier outcomes come from that. The less time spent in the car, the more time that people have to live their lives the way they want to live them.”

Impacting Employees, One House at a Time

Through the program, Robert Hackleman, MSW, LCSW, manager of care coordination at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, and his husband moved into a 2,000-square-foot, two-story single-family home in Forest Park Southeast in 2017. 

He said he and his husband were interested in moving to the city after living in south St. Louis County. When he learned about the program, he thought it was ideal especially since he already liked the neighborhood.

“There’s potential there,” he said. “We want to invest in the city, and we really wanted to be in an area that was diverse racially and economically.”

The program was a straightforward process for him, and the down payment was helpful in his purchase.

“We certainly had some funds already, but having that extra money allowed us to do more in terms of making the house exactly how we wanted to,” he said. “We were able to pay for some upgrades.”

Lisa Williams, MSW, LCSW, an outpatient case manager at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, bought her single-family home in Forest Park Southeast with her husband in 2020, and, like Hackleman, said the program was easy.

“It’s all pros and no cons,” she said. “If you’re looking to buy a house and get out of the renting cycle to build equity in a home, this is a great way to do it. Find a neighborhood that works for you and that fits within the program. There were no downsides for me.”

Building for the Future

In addition to helping people afford homes, programs such as LNYW can also build generational wealth through homeownership. As a home appreciates, it creates greater wealth that can be passed down to the next generation. 

“It’s not always easy for people to save up for that down payment to buy a house,” said Alderman Michael Browning, who represents Ward 9, encompassing Vandeventer, Kings Oak, Forest Park Southeast and the Central West End. “It makes sure that people can get that foothold. It’s the life journey we’re all on, where we build for our family and we’re always trying to improve for those who come after us. Being able to buy a home is a first step in all of that.”

Browning bought his Forest Park Southeast home 10 years ago when he was an employee at Washington University. Then, the Live Near Your Work program was called the Employer Assisted Housing program.

“We thought, ‘Well, we’re paying 25% more for housing, we might as well see if we can buy a house.’ The problem was a down payment,” Browning said. “We couldn’t save for a down payment while we rented.” 

The housing assistance program helped Browning and his wife purchase a single-family row home. 

“It was life-changing,” Browning said. “It allowed me to buy a home in the neighborhood that I had lived in at a time in my life when I would not otherwise have been able to afford a home. It became a place that is, in every sense, my community. I became a part of my neighborhood and joined the neighborhood association. I got involved in the local issues, and then I became an alderman representing the area, all because I was able to buy a home here 10 years ago.”

Chelsea Clayton, a supervisor of the outpatient pulmonary rehabilitation department at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, bought a three-bedroom home in the West End in 2019 through the LNYW program. 

Prior to buying her house, Clayton wanted to purchase a home but was having trouble saving up for the down payment. A coworker told her about the LNYW program. 

Clayton’s short commute — just a seven-minute drive to work — is a perk. Even better is having something she’ll be able to pass on to her son. 

“Knowing that I have something I can leave my son and knowing that he will always have a place to live is huge,” she said. “Without the program, I can’t say I’d be a homeowner.”

Lasting Impact

Chunn says that LYNW has impacted neighborhoods by attracting homebuyers to places where there wasn’t a lot of activity. 

“Businesses go where people live,” he said. “The more people who live in a neighborhood, the more business opportunities there are, which generate more economic activity and more jobs. It boosted the property value for those people.”

Browning has seen lots of improvement living in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood over the past 10 years. Empty houses on the block filled up and were rehabbed. Now his neighbors live there long-term. Apartment buildings were constructed. Businesses with new concepts opened in the neighborhood.

Christopher Nolan, director of anchor initiatives with BJC Community Health Improvement, says that a big reason the program expanded is that BJC would like to see the same investment that led to success in Forest Park Southeast in other areas, including neighborhoods in North City and North County, which have been historically impacted by systemic racial and spatial inequities.

“The expansion is really important for employees, but it’s also a community investment,” he said. “BJC is investing in all aspects of health, including the economics of our team members and our communities. We know that there’s a racial wage and wealth gap in our region, and we know that people don’t have access to capital. There is underinvestment in certain communities, and we’re trying to fix that moving forward, specifically with more investment in North City and North County. We’re expanding so you can live near Christian Hospital in North County, for example. There are so many great communities across St. Louis, and we need to invest equitably.”

Browning hopes the LNYW program expansion gives even more people the chance to start building their lives and become more invested in the city, like he did 10 years ago.

“The neighborhoods themselves get better when we have people who are interested in staying there long-term and making a difference in their community,” he said. “I think it has a great stabilizing effect, and it also helps people live their best life.”

About The Washington University Medical Center Redevelopment Corporation 

The Washington University Medical Center Redevelopment Corporation (WUMCRC) celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The organization, founded in 1973 by BJC HealthCare and Washington University School of Medicine, helps operate LNYW, and seeks to sustain and renew the Central West End and Forest Park Southeast neighborhoods. WUMCRC has invested over $60 million across both neighborhoods and attracted over $2.5 billion in private and public investments in physical development projects and human and social services initiatives.

For additional details about the LNYW program and how to apply for a home loan, visit lnyw.wustl.edu

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