Economic Growth Corp.'s expanding home buyer and housing education programs now have their own home.

With a ceremonial ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday, GROWTH opened the doors of its new regional Housing and Financial Education Center in downtown Rock Island.

The center, located at 114 19th St., provides a standalone office for the agency's housing and financial counselors to assist new and future homebuyers as well as those who may be struggling to save their home. 

"The mission of the center is to provide fair and equal access to critical housing resources for the region," Jan Masamoto, Growth's board chair, told a crowd of about 60 board members, community leaders and elected officials.

The agency is expanding its services and outreach, adding enhanced home buyer education, financial literacy classes, financial capability counseling and foreclosure prevention counseling.

"Buying a home, learning about the credit bureau, budgeting or facing a financial hardship can all be very stressful," said Brian Hollenback, Growth's president/CEO. "We want a place people can feel comfortable in."

The former Miner Engineering office, located next to GROWTH's home office, includes a specially designed conference room built to resemble a small house with a glass rooftop.

Carey Jorgenson, property management director for Home Base Property Management, a new subsidiary of GROWTH, said the space brings together the agency's residential and commercial management staff. "We're growing and we want to extend out of Rock Island and Rock Island County," she said.

Home Base manages 347 residential units and more than 40 commercial units now, but plans to expand nationally. Meanwhile, GROWTH's outreach and education efforts also serve Whiteside, Bureau, Jo Daviess and Kankakee counties in Illinois.

Audra Hamernik, executive director for the Illinois Housing Development Authority, said GROWTH's programming covers "the entire continuum of need" from homebuying to foreclosure prevention.

Among the programs is the state authority's i-Refi program, a home refinancing program for "homeowners who are underwater and owe more than their house is worth," she said.

The program offers up to $50,000 in a forgivable assistance to buy down an Illinois homeowners' mortgage, and refinances the difference into an affordable loan. "We find the average homeowner needs $38,000," she said, adding Illinois is the only state with such a program.      

Hollenback said GROWTH's creation of Home Base created eight new jobs for the agency.

"What this center is going to do is allow working families to build wealth and try to achieve the American Dream," said Illinois Rep. Mike Halpin, D-Rock Island.   

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