From the Housing Action Illinois Newsletter.
Noureldin Mohamed, AmeriCorps VISTA at Justine Petersen & Housing Counseling Corps. participant.
In the 1980s, Justine M. Petersen was a social worker and pioneer, advancing community development practices in the St. Louis area by brokering and crafting the first progressive mortgage products for low- to moderate-income individuals and families. She was awarded Social Worker of the Year in Missouri not just once but twice. Today, her legacy of advancing financial asset development and assisting communities lives on, fueling the work done at Justine Petersen Housing and Reinvestment Corporation (Justine PETERSEN).
A organization that brings together social work and banking, Justine PETERSEN makes every transaction personal and emphasizes building relationships. The organization began as a HUD certified counseling agency 25 years ago, however, today, they also do micro-lending and credit building. As a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), Justine PETERSEN also assists in getting capital deployed in historically under resourced neighborhoods and communities. Their housing counseling work, specifically, is essential to their mission.
“Housing counseling gives a more humanistic and holistic perspective, not just for Justine PETERSEN, but for homebuyers,” says Noureldin Mohamed, an AmeriCorps VISTA at Justine PETERSEN who is also participating in Housing Action Illinois’ Housing Counseling Corps. “We can provide them with resources and information, educating them.”
Housing counselor Randon Click shares Mohamed’s sentiments—he believes housing counseling is a way to bridge the gap between the homebuyer and third parties such as realtors and lenders. They guide the homebuyer through the entire process; at Justine Petersen, the housing counseling team is made up of a staff with a variety of skills, experience, and perspectives. Justine PETERSEN staffs individuals who know what it’s like to be a home inspector, a home buyer, or a lender.
“That’s a special part of being a housing counselor, our diversity,” says Click.
With such a wide variety of experience, Justine PETERSEN counselors ensure that their clients receive trustworthy guidance appropriate to their personal situations. The counselors create an environment that is significantly safer and more personal than trying to navigate homebuying without assistance.
Click recalls the transition from face-to-face counseling to relying on Zoom as a basis of communication during the COVID-19 pandemic. The team at Justine PETERSEN persevered during the tumultuous shift, reaching out virtually to maintain relationships with clients. Surprisingly, they saw an uptick in those interested in purchasing homes—though mostly from individuals with secure employment who were able to avoid the pandemic’s financial strain.
In the future, Justine PETERSEN plans to increase its financial asset building and housing counseling activity in Central Illinois, as well as expand their micro-lending activities and small business investment. Galen Gondolfi, Chief Strategy Officer at Justine PETERSEN, mentions Peoria, Decatur, Springfield, Champaign, and Bloomington as specific areas where they would like to increase their focus on wealth building and homeownership. Gondolfi and Click both emphasize the organization’s focus on Black homeownership, specifically through the Gateway Neighborhood Fund, which is aimed at addressing the appraisal gap in disenfranchised areas in St. Louis.
People-oriented and community focused, Justine PETERSEN’s overarching mission is to live and expand upon the legacy of Justine M. Petersen. Even as the housing market evolves, they are steadfast in their commitment to developing strong, personal, and fruitful relationships with those that they serve.