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CHA program helps woman move into home next door to her parents

Niesha Chism moved into the South Chicago home in April.

Niesha Chism, 33, outside her home in the 8100 block of South Jeffery.
Niesha Chism, 33, outside her home in the 8100 block of South Jeffery. Chism moved into the home in April. It’s next-door to where she grew up, and where her parents still live. She bought the South Chicago home — her first — through the Chicago Housing Authority’s “Choose to Own” program.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

When she was a little kid, Niesha Chism would sometimes pack a suitcase, heave it over the next-door neighbor’s fence and “run away” from home.

Some two decades later, Chism, now 33, sees her 2-year-old son head in the opposite direction — to the South Chicago home where she grew up.

That’s because Chism recently moved into the two-story brick Georgian right next door to the home where her parents still live.

She did it thanks to a Chicago Housing Authority program that helps public housing residents become homeowners.

“I would run away because my mama and daddy made me mad. I would say, ‘I’m never coming back,’” Chism recalled Monday, surrounded by CHA and other city executives gathered outside her home to celebrate the single mother of three’s achievement.

Zion Wilkins, 10, listens as his mom talks during a news conference outside their South Chicago Home.
Zion Wilkins, 10, listens as his mom talks during a news conference outside their South Chicago Home. To help celebrate National Homeownership Month, the Chicago Housing Authority went to the home of Zion’s mom, Niesha Chism, who bought their home — right next to her parents — with help from the CHA’s “Choose to Own” program.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Said Eugene E. Jones Jr., CHA’s CEO: “Buying a home is never an easy process. There are a lot of details and requirements, counseling, pre-approvals, housing searches and securing a mortgage.”

But the CHA makes it just a little easier for people like Chism, who might wonder how they could possibly afford a home. Through the “Choose to Own” program, CHA residents can apply their housing subsidy toward their mortgage payment. Participants are also typically required to make at least a 3 percent down payment. About 600 families have bought houses this way since the program began in 2002, officials said.

Chism, whose children are 14, 10 and 2, had been living in CHA housing in Beverly and Chatham before moving back to her childhood neighborhood in April. Some “bad financial decisions” made home ownership beyond her reach, but a new job, some belt tightening and the CHA program helped change that. Chism said she paid $115,000 for the home; her family’s long-time neighbors had put it on the market about a year ago.

Eugene Jones, Jr., CEO of the Chicago Housing Authority, speaks at a press conference.
Eugene Jones, Jr., CEO of the Chicago Housing Authority, speaks at a press conference celebrating National Homeownership Month, outside the home of Niesha Chism in the 8100 block of South Jeffery on Monday morning. Chism bought her first home through the Chicago Housing Authority’s “Choose to Own” program.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“It’s a great feeling having your own home and to be able to stand on my own feet,” said Chism, an IT project analyst with METRA.

Her 10-year-old son has asked his mother if they can build a basketball court in the back yard — something she couldn’t consider in a rental home.

“We just came back from Disney World. I told him I need a couple of months to get my finances back up,” Chism said.

In addition to having her 2-year-old heading next door to be spoiled by his grandparents, Chism says her father regularly heads in the opposite direction.

“He comes over and says, ‘I smell fried chicken next door’ — and I hadn’t even cooked chicken,” she said.

“He just wants to find out what I cooked so he can come over and eat.”

Zion Wilkins (peeking out of door) and his mother, Niesha Chism.
Zion Wilkins, 10, peeks from the side door as his mom, Niesha Chism, participates in a press conference celebrating National Homeownership Month, outside the family’s home in the 8100 block of South Jeffery on Monday.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times