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Southwest Side nonprofit to rehab over 100 housing units thanks to state grant

The Southwest Organizing Project got $12 million in the Illinois capital plan to acquire and renovate vacant buildings to create affordable housing.

Members of the Inner-city Muslim Action Network
Members of the Inner-city Muslim Action Network stand Thursday outside a bungalow in Chicago Lawn rehabbed by the Southwest Organizing Project. The network now uses it as transitional housing.
Carlos Ballesteros/Sun-Times

A faith-based nonprofit that rehabs vacant homes on the Southwest Side is getting a $12 million state grant.

The Southwest Organizing Project, founded in 1996, works with dozens of Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups to provide health workshops, financial literacy trainings, and to advocate for the rights of Chicago’s working class.

Starting five years ago, the group began acquiring and rehabbing properties left vacant in Chicago Lawn after the 2008 housing crash. They partnered with fellow faith-based nonprofit United Power and Brinshore Development.

Their main focus was a 20-square-block area around St. Rita that had 93 vacant properties. Now, only 8 properties remain empty. The rest have been been resold or are rented out by Brinshore and the Southwest Organizing Project, based in Chicago Lawn.

Jeff Bartow, the Project’s executive director, said the group already planned to rehab another 30 units across Chicago Lawn before the end of the year. The state money is enough to rehab 100 more.

“We’ve received steady commitment from public and private actors for the work we’re doing over the past few years, but this is the first time we’ll be able to move at a large scale,” Bartow said.

An apartment building in Chicago Lawn down the block from St. Rita before and after being rehabbed through the Southwest Organizing Project.
Harry Meyer/Southwest Organizing Project and Harry Meyer/Southwest Organizing Project

The grant was in Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s $45 billion state construction plan, which takes effect July 1.

Imelda Salazar, an organizer with the Southwest Organizing Project, said the money will help speed up the process across the board.

“It takes a lot of time to get our families ready to buy or rent a home, but once people are ready they want immediate results — and we didn’t have units ready for them all the time,” she said. “These funds will help us bridge that gap.”

Several faith leaders from across the city converged at St. Rita Thursday to reflect on the Project’s success in bringing families back to Chicago Lawn.

“The work we’ve done in this community is a living testament to the power of upholding justice and mercy in our lives and in our neighborhoods,” said Alia Bilal, associate director of the Inner-city Muslim Action Network, which works closely with the Southwest Organizing Project.

“That power shows up in the homes we’ve reclaimed together, in the lives we’ve transformed, in the families we’ve reconciled, in the blocks we’ve stabilized. That power shows up best when we show up for one another,” she said.

Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South and West sides.