It’s the kind of “problem” that most cities wouldn’t mind having: companies like Amazon, IKEA, and Mars Candy opening or expanding facilities within city limits. Joliet, Illinois is experiencing impressive job growth, and is seeking to convert commuters and renters into local homeowners; it has even announced a $650,000 down payment assistance program. All it needed to do was reach those potential homebuyers.
That’s where the Three Rivers Association of REALTORS® (TRAR) stepped up to the plate. As Gideon Blustein, a Local Government Affairs Director at Illinois REALTORS (IAR) explains, the 1,005-member association had identified Joliet as a target community for increased engagement, and strengthening relations with the new mayor and local government had been written into TRAR’s strategic plan for 2015/16. Using a $4,000 Housing Opportunity Grant from The REALTOR® Party to cover much of the expense, the Three Rivers Association partnered with the City of Joliet, the Will County Center for Community Concerns and IAR to host the first-ever “Experience Joliet Homeownership Exposition,” on a Saturday in April at Joliet West High School. The event was an all-out success, drawing about 250 consumers who were there to learn about buying a house in Joliet.
The goal of the expo was three-fold: first, to highlight the robust down payment assistance and counseling programs available to prospective homebuyers; second, to promote community amenities and resources that make Joliet an attractive place to live; and, finally, to showcase five diverse homes that were on the market, and direct consumers to the nearly 100 open houses that would take place the next day.
Five weeks prior to the expo, about eighty TRAR members and affiliates attended a “lunch-and-learn” at which Blustein and colleagues from the city presented the nuts-and-bolts of Joliet’s new down payment assistance program. The incentive is not just for first-time home buyers; it’s available to all who meet a certain income level—one that intersects with most of the current job growth in the area. During the program, the expo organizers signed up most of their vendors, who didn’t have to pay a fee, thanks to the Housing Opportunity Grant.
The free event was heavily marketed online and through digital billboard screens at grocery store check-outs. When visitors arrived in the morning, they were greeted by thirty-six vendors, from real estate companies to lenders to inspectors, as well as representatives from the local Fair Housing organization and community services like the public libraries, transportation and schools. “The student ‘ambassadors’ who represented their schools were pretty awesome,” says Blustein, adding that, “Direct interaction with these kids was so much more meaningful for families considering moving to Joliet, than just reading about the schools or hearing about them from a grown-up.” TRAR also arranged for a community group to provide activities for children, so that parents could focus on the resources at hand. During the expo, two sponsoring organizations gave presentations on home-buying basics and financial resources available to Joliet homebuyers. At least 40 REALTOR® volunteers were on hand, making sure everything ran smoothly.
At noon, twenty participants were transported by mini-bus to five available houses in five different Joliet neighborhoods, with the city’s Director of Neighborhood Services acting as tour guide. “The mood on the bus was effusive,” recalls Blustein. “Many of those on the tour had just met with lending counselors, and were able to see what they could actually afford, or where they might be with a little work repairing their credit. They all seemed to feel, at that point, that they’d been given the tools they needed to start the process. It was one of those moments when we knew we were making an impact.”
The local press covered the story of the Joliet housing expo, and the REALTORS® are hoping to make it an annual event. “It certainly strengthened our ties with the municipality and our various community partners,” notes Blustein. “Thanks to the good working relationships we’ve developed, we’re the ones they’re going to call when they need industry expertise. It’s been a big win-win.”
To learn more about how the Three Rivers Association of REALTORS® is getting the word out about homeownership opportunities in Joliet, Illinois, contact Gideon Blustein at Illinois REALTORS® at 847-899-1873.