Above:Participants listen to NeighborWorks’ instructor Stan White.

by Megan Trimble

Sandy Palmer currently lives in Glassport, but with the help of the Allegheny General Hospital is working to join her friends who rave about the good neighborhoods on the Northside.

Allegheny General Hospital, in partnership with the Northside Leadership Conference and PNC Bank, are providing over 4,000 of their employees with the opportunity to take one step closer to joining the Northside community through the Workforce Home Benefit program.

The Workforce Home Benefit program focuses on establishing homeownership in one of 15 communities around the Northside and provides several home buying resources like matched home ownership savings account plan, low interest mortgage products with low down payment requirements, home buyer education services and access to expert financial and credit counseling.

“I have always loved it over here, especially because it is so central to everything,” said Palmer, who frequents the Carnegie Science Center, the Andy Warhol Museum, Pirates and Steeler games and the National Aviary. “You are [within]walking distance to a lot over here.”

Debra Caplan, Senior Vice President of Allegheny General Hospital, said the hospital works to connect its employees with the community where they work.

“The Northside is a great place to work and live and we want to invest in it as a wonderful and vibrant community,” said Caplan. “For employees, we think it is a great thing for them to live in the area, and it’s convenient.”

Since the start of the program in 2005, 15 homes have been successfully purchased on the Northside and there is a growing interest in the program with 10 to 15 employees taking part in the workshops offered by the hospital.

For eligibility to qualify for the incentives of the program – including 10 grants of $1,000 toward the purchase of a house offered each year ­­– individuals must have completed a minimum of one year of full-time employment with AGH, remain in good standing with the hospital, meet certain income restrictions and complete the Neighborworks homeownership education seminar.

Debbie_Mary Ellen_Mark_Margie
Mary Ellen Sullivan, PNC; Margie Howard, NeighborWorks Western PA; Debra Caplan, AGH; Mark Fatla, NSLC. (courtesy AGH)

The Jan. 26 workshop reached full capacity with 15 people in attendance.

Palmer, who has been contemplating buying a home for a while, attended the Jan. 26 workshop and received a clearer view of the buying process and tips to make it go smoother. As a result, she is now more concerned about who she is working with to find the best fit for her situation.

“Real estate agents, mortgage brokers, bankers and insurance agents have paydays that rely on the transaction happening. Home Benefit Program can be focused on the buyer because their only stake in the outcome is a good new resident for the area,” Palmer said.

While the program was created for AGH employees, employees throughout the West Penn Allegheny Health system may attend the workshops hosted at AGH on Feb. 23, May 18 and Aug. 24.

Caplan said the workshops and program works to create “educated consumers” that will provide participants with an advantage when navigating the important home buying decision.

“If we didn’t have this program, people may do some of [the preparation] but it’s definitely helpful to have this resource easily accessible,” she said.

Toni Leosewski, a 20-year resident of Brighton Heights, lives in a townhome that she originally purchased through the Home Benefit Program. Single at the time of purchase, Leosewski said AHG helped her gain the confidence to purchase a home.

Had she not purchased through the program, Leosewski said she would have most likely found a home in the suburbs and missed out on the enjoyment and convenience she finds living in a neighborhood within the city.

“My husband and I can be downtown in minutes and yet with easy access to major roads can reach any of Pittsburgh suburbs in well under 30 minutes,” she said.  “We also appreciate the rich history that the Northside has to offer. The dramatic improvement in the quality of life in recent years is wonderful to see and we look forward to watching the Northside continue to progress.”

Currently, the workshops are funded by a two-year,  $24,000 grant from the PNC Foundation, which receives its principal funding from the PNC Financial Services Group. The grant covers the costs of running the workshops and provides the services to participants by Neighborworks Western Pennsylvania, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting financial empowerment through homeownership.

“For PNC, this is their way to help educate what may possibly be their future client for a future loan or mortgage,” Smith said.

AGH and NSLC plan to continue their 22-year partnership and offer the program for their employees in the future by continuing to seek funding from different banks and companies within the community.

Laura Smith, Allegheny General Hospital Partnership Coordinator for the Northside Leadership Conference said that there is a growing “buzz” surrounding the program, which she hopes will help excited employees settle in the area.

“The hospital is a neighbor in this area and we want to give employees the opportunity to be a neighbor as well,” Smith said.

Caplan agreed, adding that employees should consider the program if they are interested in home ownership in the area because “the time is now for the Northside.”

As Palmer continues the program and her home search, she will carry the wisdom she has learned from her involvement.

“Home Benefit Program is only the start. You need a team of people you can truly trust and rely on for good information and to provide appropriate direction,” she said.