Five months ago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and community groups pledged to build 250 homes in North Lawndale, a community still ravaged more than 50 years after the riots that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The plan called for selling city-owned parcels for $1 each to groups that have stitched together $27.5 million in private and public funds for construction. On Monday, that ambitious plan to help rebuild Chicago’s West Side took a giant step forward.
The City Council’s Finance Committee agreed to provide $5.3 million from two West Side tax increment financing (TIF) districts to clean up and prepare sites.
“Anybody who knows anything about North Lawndale knows that, in `68 when the riots came, they tore up a lot of our commercial districts as well as burned a lot of homes,” said Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th). “And we have not gotten back since then.
“My effort has been to develop housing in that community,” he said. “A hundred new houses in our community. I’m just so proud of this project ... If this program works, hopefully, we will get to 1,000” homes.
The formidable city subsidy will keep the price of the homes affordable by removing “a lot of that cost, that burden that would [otherwise] go onto the homeowner,” Scott said.
The innovative approach to affordable housing is a partnership between the city and United Power for Action and Justice, a coalition of organizations. Also involved are Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives and the Lawndale Christian Development Corp.
The groups say there is $10 million in the new state budget to provide average subsidies of $30,000 to each homebuyer. And there is a $12.25 million revolving construction fund provided by JP Morgan Chase and several foundations.
With the TIF and homeowner subsidies, the goal is to offer homes for no more than $230,000, according to CNI president David Doig, a former city planning commissioner and Chicago Park District superintendent.
“They’re about $270,000 or $280,000 all in. And then, when you strip out the site work and the environmental cost, we can get these down to like $220,000 or $230,000,” Doig said.
Budget Committee Chairman Pat Dowell (3rd) was impressed that the model homes displayed in photographs at Monday’s Finance Committee meeting can be delivered “at that price point.”
The price will help “families who want to stay in city” remain in a community that is “on the up-rise,” Dowell said.
She told developers, “I look forward to working with you to bring that same energy to the South Side. “
Housing Committee Chairman Harry Osterman (48th) added, “This is a really transformative project, one that we should look to replicate around the city … Of many of the issues that we deal with, this is the one that I think … has the best potential. I am 110 percent in support.
“Trying to make sure that the money is there to clean the land, get these homes built is really going to help stabilize North Lawndale and really help [it] grow.”
Near West Side Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) said he appreciates Doig “returning to his roots” on the West Side. “He started on the West Side, went out to Pullman. Now he’s coming back to the West Side. Maybe he’ll do something on the North Side, too, one day,” Burnett said.
During the August news conference when the North Lawndale program was unveiled, protesters used a megaphone to drown out the parade of elected officials at the podium. They claimed the homes would be built by outsiders and occupied by people who don’t live in North Lawndale.
On Monday, Scott addressed those fears head-on under questioning from Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), who feared the developer would seek a waiver from the 50 percent residency requirement.
Noting that the Lawndale Christian Development Corporation is led by Richard Townsell, a “community developer in his own right and a community resident,” Scott said Townsell is “trying to get 100 percent of the folks that are there as resident be builders..”
He added, “I sincerely hope at the end of the day we’re going to have more than 50 percent of the man hours done…by community residents. They’ve already lined up a cadre of homeowners as well as a cadre of folks who want to build and work in our community.”
Also on Monday, the Finance Committee agreed to earmark $3.5 million in money from the Chicago/Central Park TIF to help Interfaith Housing Development Corp. bankroll a 43-unit affordable apartment complex at 414 N. Central Park in Burnett’s ward.