Oak Parker Hattie Dortilus is in the process of taking advantage of a home-buying program offered by the Oak Park Regional Housing Center.

Marz Timms hopes to be eating “prize-winning chili” at Hattie Dortilus’s house warming party sometime soon.

It’s her dream too, and Dortilus is working diligently with Timms, her counselor at the West Cook Homeownership Center in Oak Park, to make her transition from renter to first-time homeowner.

“I read about the counseling program, and knew that they would give help for the down payment on a home,” says Dortilus, who is poised to begin shopping for an affordable two-bedroom house with a backyard in a nearby suburb this spring. “I have been in an apartment for quite a while in Oak Park, and now I think I am ready to own a home.”

Since December, the 56-year-old, single Mom has been among a group of first-time homebuyers who have been taking advantage of the free HUD-certified counseling and education services at the Oak Park Regional Housing Center that Executive Director Rob Breymaier debuted shortly after taking his post in June 2006.

Now, meeting face-to-face with Timms in his office at 1041 South Blvd., Dortilus is updating her counselor about the status of her personal savings plan, and discussing the next steps.

For anybody with questions about buying a home, says Timms, who is also the agency’s director of housing, he and his counterpart, Mirna Rodriguez, can help. They counsel potential homebuyers on such things as pre-purchasing protocol, financial literacy and personal money management skills. They also give advice to clients about the importance of finding a real estate agent, lender and lawyer they can trust as well as having a home inspection prior to closing the deal.

Providing post purchasing tips about where to go for answers when things go awry, especially in the areas of property taxes, home insurance, and home maintenance, is also a priority.

Finding financial assistance

A critical component for Dortilus, says Timms, has been her understanding the criteria to qualify for down payment assistance via the Illinois Housing Development Authority’s (IHDA) Affordable Housing Trust Fund Program, which she did. It required her to get pre-approved for a loan and undergo eight hours of home ownership counseling.

Prior to sitting down with Timms, Dortilus secured an FHA loan through Community Bank of Oak Park and River Forest.

Breymaier adds that Dortilus, as well as anyone in the state whose income is below 50 percent of the Area Median Income for their household size, can apply to receive financial assistance with their down payment. Qualified applicants can receive up to $30,000 in a no-interest second mortgage, to be repaid after 30 years, plus a $5,000 grant.

Likewise, first-time homebuyers with incomes between 51 percent and 80 percent of the AMI for their household size, can qualify for up to $20,000 in a no-interest second mortgage, which is repaid after 30 years. A $3,000 grant is also part of that financial assistance package.

For residents of Oak Park only, another option is the HOME Partnership program, whereas the Cook County Neighborhood Stabilization Program assists people here, and in the outlying area.

In addition, it is possible to layer programs if a participant qualifies for more than one, Breymaier says. This year, he adds, the pools of assistance could provide support for about 15 additional first-time buyers.

“I went home, and I was floating,” says Dortilus in regards to hearing the news she qualified for the trust fund program. “If I have any questions, or if anything comes to me, I feel that he knows the answer and he will help me and tell me the truth. And that makes you feel confident much more than you are. Because when you are buying a home, you really don’t know a lot because you have never been through it before.”

Opening doors

Dortilus says she is busy fulfilling her certificate of completion for her eight hours of home ownership training. Saving more money, she says, is currently on the table, and she plans to keep going.

From behind his desk Timms is smiling. It’s important for Dortilus to put “some skin in the game, as they say nowadays,” he says.

“No one can fix your credit better than you can,” Dortilus asserts. “It’s going to take time, but no organization can fix your credit for you, no matter how much or little they charge. So don’t fall for it.”

In an effort to supplement and augment her counseling sessions, Dortilus has been attending first-time homebuyer seminars at area banks and other “classroom settings,” Timms notes. This is where she has met the housing industry and banking pros that have been helping her get the ball rolling.

Timms encourages anyone and everyone, all races and income levels, to make an appointment at the center when they are ready and serious about purchasing a home, are pre-approved for a loan and have their credit in order.

“It is our hope that more people become aware of this program, and the financial assistance it offers,” Breymaier says, “so folks who wouldn’t have otherwise been able to obtain home ownership will be able to do it, in a responsible way, and in a way that they can sustain over their lifetime.”

It is also the regional housing center’s mission, Breymaier adds, to continue encouraging people to think about where it is they are choosing to live, and consider moving in ways that will improve or sustain integration in all the West Cook County communities they serve.

“Those are the goals of this program,” Breymaier says.

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Deb Quantock McCarey

Deb Quantock McCarey is an Illinois Press Association (IPA) award-winning freelance writer who has worked with Wednesday Journal Inc. since 1995, writing features and special sections for all its publications....

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