Wells Fargo & Co. has committed $8 million to help about 425 people in Cook County purchase homes by providing eligible homebuyers with $15,000 down payment grants.
It is the second time the bank has targeted Chicago for a national housing assistance program.
NeighborhoodLIFT is one of several programs designed to help low- and moderate-income people — many of whom were hit hard by the foreclosure crisis — get back into homeownership. Nearly a decade after the financial crisis, homeownership in the U.S. has ticked up to 64.3 percent from its low of 62.9 percent in the second quarter of 2016. Nevertheless, experts say homeownership still eludes a swath of working people, particularly in communities of color.
Chase Bank also offers homeowner assistance to low- and moderate-income buyers. In qualified areas, potential homebuyers can receive a $2,500 grant toward closing costs and down payment, and an additional $500 for participating in homebuyer education, according to spokeswoman Keosha Burns.
To qualify for the NeighborhoodLIFT grant, household income must not exceed 80 percent of the local area median income, or about $67,700 for a family of four in Cook County. Veterans and U.S. service members, teachers, law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians who earn up to 100 percent of local area median income, or about $84,600, are eligible for a $17,500 grant.
Nearly 400 potential homebuyers registered to attend an information session Aug. 24-25 in the grand ballroom at McCormick Place’s south building, but walk-ins are welcome, the bank said. NeighborWorks America and, in the Chicago area, Neighborhood Housing Services, are partnering with the lender on the program.
The program has been implemented in 38 cities, counties and states. Chicago is one of seven areas where it has been implemented twice. “We know in Chicago there’s a need,” said Kim Smith-Moore, NeighborhoodLIFT’s national manager.
Wells Fargo has committed $398 million to help more than 18,000 homebuyers nationally, Smith-Moore said. “We started this program as a way to address the housing crisis. We hope we’ve seen the end of the housing crisis, and this is really about building and revitalizing communities.”
Neighborhood Housing Services will help screen potential homebuyers for eligibility, provide homebuyer education and administer the grants.
“We feel this is an important resource we need,” said Karen Woods, NHS’ director of homeownership services. “Given our work, we know savings for down payments can be a challenge.”
This isn’t the first vehicle Wells Fargo has used to aid homeownership in Cook County.
In 2012, as a part of the national fair-lending settlement, the bank committed $10 million to aid potential homebuyers in a program known as CityLIFT, which was modeled after the NeighborhoodLIFT program. CityLIFT was discontinued in 2013, after the company spent $53.4 million and assisted 3,128 homeowners, including 547 in the Chicago area.
Wells Fargo has faced criticism and scrutiny as of late. Earlier this year, the bank was found to have charged thousands of customers for auto insurance they didn’t need and in 2016, admitted it had opened millions of sham accounts that customers did not want. In April, Wells Fargo said it would pay $1 billion to federal regulators to settle misconduct charges tied to its auto and mortgage business. And last week, the bank admitted that an internal error caused about 625 homeowners in foreclosure to wrongly be denied mortgage modifications or not offered them.