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Rahm housing aid program helps buy pricey digs in posh neighborhoods

The owner of a T-shirt business got a $25,020 city grant to help him buy this $500,000 bungalow a block from Wrigley Field. | Tyler LaRiviere / Sun-Times

A housing-assistance program that Mayor Rahm Emanuel set up two years ago to help people with “low to moderate incomes” buy homes has frequently ended up financing pricey homes in expensive neighborhoods, a Chicago Sun-Times investigation has found.

So far, 218 households have received a total of more than $1.6 million under the program run by the Chicago Infrastructure Trust, the not-for-profit that Emanuel created to finance public improvement projects.

The Sun-Times found that:

• The program’s largest grant — $25,020 — went to a single man who owns a T-shirt company to help him buy a $500,000 bungalow one block from Wrigley Field.

• Another single businessman got a $16,490 grant to help him buy a $340,000 “garden” condo in Lincoln Park.

• A Chicago cop got $21,137 toward the cost of a new, $445,000 home on the Northwest Side.

• Another police officer got $13,353 toward a $340,000 home on the Northwest Side. He got the grant one day after he sold a nearby home for $277,000.

• A $6,480 grant went to a couple who appear to work for one of the mortgage companies that approve loans and grants for many of the home-buyers in the mayor’s housing-aid program. They used the money to buy a $187,000 home on the Far South Side.

A single businessman got a $16,490 grant from the city of Chicago to help him buy a $340,000 “garden” condo in Lincoln Park. | Tyler LaRiviere / Sun-Times
A single businessman got a $16,490 grant from the city of Chicago to help him buy a $340,000 “garden” condo in Lincoln Park. | Tyler LaRiviere / Sun-Times

According to mortgage records filed with the Cook County recorder of deeds office, some of the money from the city program also went toward buying homes in the suburbs. Those records show seven homes in the suburbs were purchased with the help of city grants totaling $56,890. The 2016 ordinance approved by Emanuel and the Chicago City Council limits the subsidies to homes within the Chicago city limits.

Emanuel spokesman Grant Klinzman says that, despite what the mortgage records show, none of these seven suburban homeowners actually got money from the city of Chicago. Klinzman says those “recapture mortgages” were erroneously filed against those seven homes by six of the 27 mortgage companies that arrange financing for homeowners in the city program.

The suburban homeowners participated in a similar home-buyer assistance program created by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, according to Klinzman and Preckwinkle spokeswoman Becky Schlikerman. They say the six mortgage companies mistakenly filed documents showing the homeowners are on the hook to City Hall rather than the county and that new paperwork will be filed to lift the city’s liens on those homes.

Until that happens, the mortgage records say the suburban homeowners — like anyone in Emanuel’s program — would have to reimburse the city for a portion of the grants if they sell their homes within five years.

One of those suburban homeowners, a single woman, says she had no idea why the city of Chicago has a $6,270 lien against the Oak Lawn home she bought last year for $165,000. The woman, who asked not to be identified, says she got a $156,750 mortgage from Wintrust Financial, which also helped her get financial assistance through the Cook County home-buyers program. Wintrust filed two liens against the woman’s home — one for the mortgage and a “recapture mortgage” showing she got money from City Hall. Following inquiries from the Sun-Times, Wintrust filed papers releasing the city’s lien on the woman’s home.

Emanuel’s program began in the spring of 2016 with a $600,000 in taxpayer money to help homeowners.

The money for the city program is replenished by the mortgage companies selling those loans to investors, so there’s more money available for additional homeowners.

The county began a similar program in December 2016.

Both programs are administered by George K. Baum & Company, which also has helped governments borrow money to pay for a wide range of projects in Chicago, including the renovation of Soldier Field.

Emanuel’s home-buyer assistance program is open to any prospective Chicago homeowner whose household income is no more than $131,775.

The county program is open only to suburban home-buyers.

Applicants for the programs must work with one of the 27 lenders approved by the city or the 10 lenders in the county program. They don’t have to be first-time home-buyers, but they can’t own any other home at the time they receive the assistance.

Borrowers in both programs must obtain a 30-year mortgage to receive a grant. The grants are for as much as 7 percent of the total loan. The programs let people buy a home with almost no money down: Buyers have to put in just $1,000 of their own money or 1 percent of the purchase price, whichever figure is lower.

One buyer in the city’s program was foreclosed on in April, less than 10 months after buying her home, records show. She had gotten a grant from the city of $5,891 toward a $150,000 home on the Southwest Side.

The lenders determine which applicants get the government assistance from both housing programs.

But city and county officials say they have no information on any recipients — 218 households in the city and 58 in suburban Cook County — including their household incomes, assets or where they work. County officials refused to identify the homeowners at all. The city released only last names, but the Sun-Times was able to identify those home-buyers through the liens Emanuel’s infrastructure trust program filed against their properties — including the seven in the suburbs.

The Sun-Times’ findings prompted Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) to question the value of Emanuel’s housing program, which he and 47 other aldermen approved on March 16, 2016, agreeing to spend as much as $1 million on the grants.

“This is the problem we’ve seen with this infrastructure trust, you’re getting a million in city funds, and then it’s off the books,” Waguespack says. “It’s so void of transparency.

“I guess I assumed this wasn’t going to be for this Wrigleyville kid or cops buying a second home,” the alderman says. “Are we helping out families, or guys make an investment?

“This seems skewed to people who don’t need it or deserve it,” he says. “It doesn’t sound like we’re helping families.”

RELATED: Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s trust a bust? Fails to raise a dime — but has cost taxpayers $5 million, Dec. 17, 2017

Klinzman, the mayor’s spokesman, says: “The goal of the program is to support homeownership in Chicago for families of all types . . . It makes homeownership possible for residents across the city and provides the flexibility to borrowers who normally would not qualify for other programs. To date, the program has closed loans in 47 of 50 wards. It has also helped a diverse group of Chicagoans buy home: Approximately 40 percent of program participants have been African American, 30 percent white, 20 percent Latino and 4 percent Asian American.”

According to mortgage records, a total of $56,890 from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s housing-assistance program went toward buying homes in the suburbs, including a condo in this building in Palos HIlls. City Hall says the mortgage records — filed by six mortgage
According to mortgage records, a total of $56,890 from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s housing-assistance program went toward buying homes in the suburbs, including a condo in this building in Palos HIlls. City Hall says the mortgage records — filed by six mortgage companies — are wrong and that it will file paperwork to release the liens the city has on those homes. | Tyler LaRiviere / Sun-Times