By Dianne Wasson, Vice President & Affinity Lending Manager, HomeStreet Bank
Back in the early 1990s, the city of Seattle faced a challenge. Due to the high costs of living in the city, police and fire department employees were forced to live in surrounding suburbs and neighboring cities, resulting in lengthier commutes. For these critical employees, response time—and hence proximity—was an issue.
To help solve this, the city of Seattle was the first employer to adopt in 1994 the Hometown Home Loan Program, an employer-assisted housing benefit that helps employees of participating companies become homeowners. HomeStreet Bank partners with employer clients to offer the program to employee populations.
HomeStreet’s Hometown Home Loan Program was a good fit for the city and for countless other employers in the ensuing years.The program provides, at no cost, a comprehensive array of employee benefits consisting of discounts on closing costs and fees; special loan programs, including down payment assistance; and on-site education programs on credit, budgeting, and homeownership-related topics.
The Hometown Home Loan Program helps both employers and employees. It enables employers to offer a low-cost, high-reward benefit to their overall benefits package, and employees get both financial help and real estate education to make smarter home buying decisions.
Since its inception, the Hometown Home Loan Program has provided more than 10,000 home loans, helping participants save a total of $13 million on closing costs and loan fees. Some 40 percent of program participants have been first-time homebuyers, who were especially interested in the educational opportunities.
Throughout the years, we’ve made adjustments to the program to take into consideration the changing economic environment. Today, in addition to the desire to simply save money on closing costs and fees, there is an increased need for families to develop stronger financial management skills—learning to pay down debt, investing in a savings plan, and building stronger credit scores. This is important not only for financing a home, but also to help families lead more stable and rewarding lives.
The educational aspect of the program encourages potential homeowners to address the major barriers they face in home financing, which can include lack of funds for a down payment and closing costs, credit issues, unfamiliarity with the financing process, and inability to qualify for a loan.
The program now has spread from one organization, the city of Seattle, to approximately 60 companies, nonprofits, universities, school districts, and membership organizations throughout the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii. Partners include the city of Portland, New Seasons Markets, the University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Aloha Petroleum, and the Hawaii Firefighters Association.
The success of the Hometown Home Loan Program demonstrates that by thinking out of the box, employers can build benefit packages that help attract and retain top employees, increase company loyalty, and help employees live closer to work. And through the Hometown Home Loan program, employers can offer a tangible benefit with a high reward at no cost. For more information about the Hometown Home Loan Program, visit www.homestreet.com/hometown.
Dianne Wasson is vice president and regional manager of HomeStreet Bank’s Affinity Lending Department, where she oversees affinity lending activities in Washington, Oregon, and Hawaii. Working with Fannie Mae, community nonprofit agencies, and the City of Seattle, Wasson has been involved in the development of several mortgage programs to assist employers with workforce housing. A 25-year veteran of the mortgage lending industry, Wasson has been actively involved in affordable housing advocacy in the Seattle area for the last 15 years. She has served a Governor’s appointment on the Washington State Affordable Housing Advisory Board, and Executive appointments on the King County Housing Task Force, the Seattle Housing Levy Oversight Committee, and the King County Committee to End Homelessness. She currently serves as board president for Homestead Community Land Trust.