Frederick Seaton, (right) talks to Leroy Slater from Neighborhood Housing Services after being approved for a down payment assistance grant Friday. | Rachel Hinton/Sun-Times

Neighborhood program helps Cook County residents buy homes

For the past five years, Frederick Seaton, 59, has procrastinated on homeownership.

With three teenage boys at home, and one away at Illinois State, Seaton decided they needed to move to something bigger.

“I think this will help them understand the importance of the values I’ve set for them,” Seaton said. “I’m always preparing them to get out on their own. I can’t wait for them to leave so I can be there by myself.”

Seaton was the first person approved for a $15,000 down-payment assistance grant from NeighborhoodLift on Friday. Now, the single father has 60 days to find a home or forfeit the money.

NeighborhoodLift, a national mortgage assistance program sponsored by Wells Fargo, was in Chicago on Friday and Saturday to give out about $7 million total in just grants to potential Cook County residents looking to become homeowners. They also gave out $600,000 in revitalization grants to non-profits for neighborhood beautification efforts, a spokesman for Wells Fargo said.

The two-day NeighborhoodLift event at McCormick Place was a joint effort between Wells Fargo, NeighborWorks America and Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago.

By the end of the day Saturday, 425 people received grants — $15,000 for eligible low- and moderate-income homebuyers in Cook County. To get the assistance, potential homeowners could not exceed an annual income cap of $67,700 for up to a family of four in Cook County.

Military service members, veterans, teachers, law enforcement officials, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians received $17,500 in downpayment assistance.

Kimberly Smith-Moore, national program manager for NeighborhoodLift, said that through six years and 61 other events before this weekend in Chicago, the program has helped make the dream of homeownership a reality.

“[The program] helps meet people where they’re at in the process,” Smith-Moore said. “So even if they’re just aspiring, or they have the hope and dream one day to be a homeowner, it gets them down to the right path and provides them with the tools and resources they need to accomplish that and make it a reality.”

Others who were pre-approved for grants or who waited in the walk-in area outside the Grand Ballroom saw owning a home as a means to long-term wealth and a legacy their kids could build on.

“We have three girls,” said Kenneth Goodrum of Riverdale. “We want them to be able to go outside freely and be safe from the shootings and violence going on in the city.”

Janice McCowan, 39, has made offers on two houses, but has been outbid both times. She said help with her down payment should give her a better chance to close on a house.

“It would be life altering for me and my daughter to provide a legacy, an opportunity to bring in residual income for my family,” McCowan said. “We stray away from buying property and we rent for our whole lives. My parents still own their home, they’re still in the home that I grew up in, and so I wanted that for my daughter and for my family.”

Seaton would agree. He said the opportunity was all about “being able to position yourself” for a better future when the time is right.

“I’m ready to step out. I’ve been paying rent for years,” Seaton said. “I just wish I did it quicker so I could have some equity, something to put in a house. Everybody has to take the opportunity [to own a home] when you’re ready. The opportunity was there several years ago, but I wasn’t ready for it.”

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