By Mary Ellen Podmolik
Kristin Faust has many concerns when it comes to housing, homeownership and neighborhoods, but prime among them is the disappearance of the middle class.
Less than two months into her new job as president of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, Faust is driving neighborhoods, meeting funders and studying data to formulate a strategy to carry on the nonprofit's mission.
"We're losing our middle class," Faust said. "What NHS is doing in the neighborhoods is helping build and sustain that middle class. We need to rethink what the middle class is. (It's) people who go to work every day, who want to be strong homeowners."
Homeownership equals empowerment and investment in a community, Faust reasons, and that's what keeps communities strong.
Faust, 54, joins NHS as it celebrates its 40th anniversary, stepping into the role previously held for 4-1/2 years by Ed Jacob and before that by Bruce Gottschall, who retired in late 2009.
Most recently, she was director of lending and neighborhood services at Partners for the Common Good, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. The new job brings her back to Chicago, where she worked for nine years in community development roles for LaSalle Bank, and back to working more on the local level, on the front lines of neighborhood stabilization efforts.
"It is house by house, borrower by borrower, block by block," Faust said. "We're there to facilitate and give more information about being a strong homebuyer."
NHS, with nine offices and 124 full-time employees, is the Chicago area's largest housing counseling agency. In the 12 months ended in March, it provided assistance to more than 5,700 people, homebuyer education to 2,554 area residents and foreclosure prevention services to another 2,720.
Among her challenges will be to keep up the drumbeat on the need for attention and funding in communities hit hard by the housing crisis and still awaiting recovery. That message may take some work, since national headlines portray a housing market of rising prices, bidding wars and a lack of interest by first-time buyers.
Indeed, the Chicago-area residential market is far better than it once was. In the six-county area, new foreclosure filings in the first half of the year decreased by 38 percent from 2013's first six months, to a level not seen since 2007, according to Woodstock Institute, a Chicago-based research and public policy organization.