Lightfoot’s Invest South/West program focuses on Auburn Gresham, North Lawndale
The mayor is earmarking $11 million in federal stimulus funds for two projects — one in North Lawndale, the other in Auburn-Gresham — with potential to bridge the nine-year “death gap” between black and white Chicagoans.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday earmarked $11 million in federal stimulus funds for two projects pivotal to her plan to rebuild impoverished South and West side neighborhoods and bridge the nine-year “death gap” between black and white Chicagoans.
The $12.4 million Auburn Gresham Healthy Lifestyle and Technology Hub, 839 W. 79th Street, will take a four-story building that has stood stubbornly vacant and turn it into a full-service health and “digital community center” that will free hospital capacity in a “health desert” that recorded Illinois’ first death from the coronavirus.
“It is shameful that, in one of the greatest cities in the world and at a historic, busy intersection like 79th and Halsted, the only vibrant business is a liquor store,” Carlos Nelson, CEO of the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation, told a news conference across the street from the site of the project, which will get $4 million of the stimulus funds.
“This was a classic Chicago community, a walkable community. Then, as my family moved in and other black families moved to Auburn Gresham, redlining and ... white flight took over with a mass exodus of 60,000-plus white residents. We lost businesses. We lost investments. We lost our train station. ... Disinvestment has been rampant. Buildings became derelict and were demolished. Other buildings sat vacant for years. We’re standing on the representation of systemic and structural racism.”
Mount Sinai Hospital’s $12.3 million North Lawndale Surgical and Ambulatory Care Center will support construction of a 30,000-square-foot surgical center, a digestive health center and an expansion of a renal dialysis center so overloaded that it’s now running four shifts. A “Workforce Campus” and café also are planned for the project, which is getting the other $7 million in stimulus funding.
It’ll be part of a larger project known as Ogden Commons that includes 500 units of mixed-income housing, a bank and three restaurants fronting Ogden.
Karen Teitelbaum, president and CEO of Sinai Health System, said the coronavirus pandemic has “shined a light on racial disparities in health care in such an unforgivable, compelling way.”
She said an “overwhelming proportion” of COVID-19 patients treated at Sinai had pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes, respiratory disease and obesity. One in four of those patients also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder tied to the violence they live with every day in neighborhoods with triple the unemployment rate of the rest of Chicago.
No wonder their mortality rate was 18.8%, compared with 4.5% for the rest of the city.
“Sinai and Ogden Commons is really going to allow us to address these disparities in a much better way than we’re able to without this building,’’ Teitelbaum said. ‘‘It increases capacity. It increases efficiency. And, for our community members, it’s health care right in the community. No need to take public transportation to get that health care.
“We always say at Sinai [that] there can’t be two levels of good health — one if you happen to live on the Gold Coast or River North and another if you happen to live just 6 scant miles west.’’
Before the pandemic, Lightfoot’s biggest concern was her war on poverty and her plan to target 10 inner-city neighborhoods with an unprecedented $250 million in city investment and $500 million more from other government agencies.
Since then, she has talked extensively about how COVID-19 has turned Chicago’s ugly underbelly — poverty, lack of access to health care, disparities in investment and jobs — into a “flashing neon sign.”
The mayor said she spent most of Saturday in “two lengthy discussions” — one on the South Side, the other on the West Side — to find out what’s driving the recent surge in gang violence targeting so many of Chicago’s children.
What she heard is the “level of trauma people are experiencing” and about the urgent need to support “the whole family unit and certainly our young people.”
“What we need to do is continue making the kind of investments that today is about,’’ she said. ‘‘Because if we build healthy communities, if we invest and give our young people hope and give them jobs and give them a pipeline to the legitimate economy, we’re gonna make a difference.
“Our young people need safe spaces where they can gather. It’s the parks, sure. But they need community places where they can get healing, where they can get those wrap-around services. I don’t want to just start after we’ve arrested them and taken them off the corner. That’s a fail. It’s too late. We’ve got to do more to keep them from being on those corners in the first place, being lured by the gangs and the adults who are manipulating them and who don’t care and don’t love them.”