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LETTER: How the Cook County Land Bank helps revitalize black and brown communities

The Land Bank has torn down barriers and democratized access to distressed properties. It has given us a chance to create jobs for our neighbors and wealth for the communities we call home.

A home on Chicago’s South Side that was rehabbed through the Cook County Land Bank Authority program.
Cook County Land Bank Authority

Editor’s note: As the Chicago Sun-Times has published multiple stories about the Cook County Land Bank, including today’s story about its top executive’s compensation, local businesses have expressed an interest in writing a letter explaining the Land Bank’s importance. This is that letter.

As African American, Latino and women small business owners, community developers and economic development advocates, we are a testament to the power of the Cook County Land Bank Authority, which has been revitalizing black and brown communities like ours for the last seven years.

We have never needed it more than we do at this moment, when our country is entering the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression and our neighborhoods are seeing destruction in the aftermath of continued police brutality. These events have the potential to set us back for a generation or more.

SEND LETTERS TO: letters@suntimes.com. Please include your neighborhood or hometown and a phone number for verification purposes.

The Land Bank was formed in the wake of the recession of 2008, which left enormous scars that are still visible today. More than 200,000 housing units were vacant in the black and Latino communities where we live and work. But that devastation may pale in comparison to what is hitting us right now. More than 42 million Americans have filed for unemployment since COVID-19 has crippled the economy, and numerous small South and West Side businesses have burned over the last week.

Grassroots development is more important than ever because the wealth that is generated in a community remains in and benefits that community. That is why we need the work of the Cook County Land Bank, and we know from first-hand experience. When the Land Bank was formed in 2013, some of us were already working as small business owners and community developers who purchased homes that nobody else would touch — houses that were headed for demolition if we hadn’t come along to rehab them.

Before the Land Bank, navigating the Cook County Scavenger Sale was a nightmare of red tape, a maze of liens and confusing court processes. Worse, most people never had a chance to get into the game because they did not have access to sufficient capital to work this system. It was a business that was almost impossible for the “little guys” like us to get into.

The Cook County Land Bank Authority changed that — and changed everything for us. We — the independent community developers empowered by the Land Bank — are 400-plus strong. Most of us are people of color and nearly 40 of us are women. The Land Bank tore down barriers and democratized access to distressed properties. It represents our interests at the Scavenger Sale. It clears the red tape involved in purchasing these properties, giving us a chance to create jobs for our neighbors and wealth for the communities we call home.

Collectively, we have now rehabbed more than 600 single family homes that once stood vacant. We have sought out our own financing, purchased our own materials, and recruited and managed our own construction crews. It is shameful for anyone to attempt to discredit the value of our hard work or the Land Bank’s mission by suggesting that the Land Bank is in any way connected to the financial institutions that help us finance these properties.

It is certain that without the Land Bank and without our work in our communities, these properties would still be an economic and social drain on our neighborhoods.

Together, we’ve helped generate $77 million in community wealth, which is the total amount of instant equity created when we sold rehabbed properties to their new owners.

Like Chicago after the fire of 1871, we are known for rebuilding, block by block, community by community, and the Land Bank will enable this to happen.

Bonita Harrison, KBM Realty

Leon Walker, DL3 Realty

Courtney Jones, Dearborn Realist Board

Ghian Foreman, Emerald South Economic Development Collaborative Anthony and Anton Downing, The Downing Brothers

Cornelius Griggs, GMA Construction

Bonita Harrison, KBM Realty

Nicole Harper, Xsell Enterprises

Candice Payne, 5th Group Realty

Kai Bandele, Bandele Properties

Rashauna Scott, Flippin in Heels

Keith Ray, Rayland Development

Meghan Harte, LISC Chicago

Lovise Jiles, MNK Realty

Jason and EJ Williams, Ultimate Real Estate

Paige Hansen, Optiv Properties

Raul Raymundo, The Resurrection Project

Melvin Thompson, The Endeleo Institute

Abraham Lacy, Far South CDC

Gabriela Roman, Spanish Coalition for Housing

Donna Clarke, Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago