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Rock Island Economic Growth Corp., or GROWTH, is sweetening the deal to encourage those working in the health care, education, police and fire professions to buy a home in Rock Island.

At a news conference Tuesday, GROWTH officials announced that homebuyers in the designated professions would receive $1,000 toward the purchase of a home in the city limits. The grant would be in addition to homebuyer assistance they can receive from the organization's Employer-Assisted Housing Program, known as Live-Work Rock Island. 

Brian Hollenback, GROWTH's president, announced the new incentive as the agency celebrated $339,587 it received in the latest round of funding from the Illinois Housing Development Authority. The funding help supports Live-Work Rock Island, which provides down-payment and closing-cost assistance.

"Now in Phase Nine, this program continues to serve as a national model for Live-Work housing, providing a great incentive for homeownership in Rock Island for our local workforce community," he said. The latest funding will help another 48 employees purchase Rock Island homes.

Since 2003, the program has helped nearly 300 Rock Island homebuyers with $1.5 million in assistance, Hollenback said, adding that the average household receives $5,500 in assistance.

But as community representatives, lawmakers and housing officials gathered at GROWTH's new single-family home development, the Garden District, several speakers discussed the importance of extending the Illinois Affordable Housing Tax Credits. The credits are scheduled to expire Dec. 31. Legislation that would extend the credits another five years is pending in both the House and Senate.

"Housing is a key component of economic competitiveness, and this program has been proven as a true win-win strategy — one that makes housing more affordable for employees while enhancing the competitiveness of local businesses," said Matt Rangel, the state housing authority's development director.

Rangel said the credit rewards donations of funding or property to affordable housing, nonprofit developers. The tax credit is worth half the donation's value.

Nick Brunick, vice president of the Illinois Housing Council, said that since the tax credits began in 2001, they have created 18,000 housing units across the state and represented a $3.3 billion investment. 

"It is a very flexible tool because whatever the housing needs are in your community, you can use this tool to meet them," he said.

If the credits are not extended, he said, there are "projects in the pipeline" that likely would not go forward across the state.

Rock Island employers whose employees have bought houses in the city through employer-supported Live-Work program applauded its impact in bringing more residents to Rock Island.

"We believe Live-Work provides an extra incentive for our employees to choose Rock Island to live," Rock Island-Milan School District Superintendent Michael Oberhaus said, adding that 36 of the district's employees have been helped.

The city of Rock Island has seen 35 employees participate in the homebuyer program, Mayor Dennis Pauley said.

"Attracting and keeping young talented employees is a challenge in small cities like Rock Island,'' he said. "We see the Employer Assisted Housing Program as a great tool for getting employees in a home, keeping them with local employers and within our community."

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