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City-backed venture plans 250 homes in North Lawndale

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the program, using public and private money, will address decades of neglect and help families build wealth.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot greets a supporter after discussing the launch of the Reclaiming Communities Campaign during news conference in North Lawndale on the Southwest Side, Monday, June 28, 2021.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot greets a supporter Monday after discussing the launch of the Reclaiming Communities Campaign in North Lawndale.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and community groups pledged Monday to build 250 homes in North Lawndale to improve the community and help families build wealth.

The program, part of the Invest South/West effort, involves selling city-owned parcels for $1 each to groups that say they have stitched together $27.55 million in private and public funds to support the construction. The city said it would provide $5.3 million from two West Side tax increment financing districts for site cleanup and preparation, all to help keep the homes affordable.

For Lightfoot, who has declared racism a public health crisis in Chicago, it represents a financial pledge for an area victimized through the years by redlining, predatory loans and a loss of businesses. She said the homes in the Reclaiming Communities Campaign will be built over three to five years.

At a news conference announcing the program, Lightfoot noted that in North Lawndale, 18% of the land is vacant. The city owns roughly 950 vacant parcels. “That is a wow. That is a wow. But through this campaign we will turn this vacant land into opportunity,” the mayor said.

The city will work with United Power for Action and Justice, a coalition of organizations. Also involved are Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives and Lawndale Christian Development Corp.

The groups cited $10 million in the new state budget to provide average subsidies of $30,000 to each homebuyer. They also reported a $12.25 million revolving construction fund provided by JP Morgan Chase and several foundations.

With the subsidy, the goal is to offer the homes at $220,000, said Shangwé Parker, a leader at United Power.

The organizations have a long-term goal of building 1,000 homes on the West and South sides. They believe owner-occupancy will stabilize the areas and reduce violence.

During the event at Penn Elementary School, 1616 S. Avers Ave., Lightfoot said home ownership has “long been a significant predictor of future financial stability.” It gives people the “freedom and space they need” to raise a family, pass on generational wealth and “climb a ladder of upward mobility,” she said.

But for too many Black and Brown Chicagoans, the American dream is “just beyond our reach,” the mayor said. She argued that the “elusive nature of home ownership” is nothing less than a “modern-day manifestation of decades of discriminatory practices.”

Lightfoot pointed to a recent study by WBEZ Radio and City Bureau that showed banks lend 12 cents in Black neighborhoods and 13 cents in Hispanic neighborhoods for every $1 they lend in white neighborhoods.

Among those supporting the program was U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Illinois. Garcia argued that Chicagoans have faced a “tough choice” for far too long when it comes to finding housing they can afford: Unsafe housing in “under invested” neighborhoods or “development and displacement.”

A protester speaks from the street outside as Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th) discusses the launch of the Reclaiming Communities Campaign during a news conference in North Lawndale on the Southwest Side, Monday, June 28, 2021.
A protester speaks from the street outside as Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th) on Monday discusses the launch of the Reclaiming Communities Campaign in North Lawndale.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Protesters interrupted the news conference Monday. They used a megaphone in an attempt to drown out the parade of elected officials at the podium and claim that the homes would be built by outsiders and occupied by people who don’t live in North Lawndale.

“If you don’t have a hater, you’re not doing nothing,” said Richard Townsell, executive director of the Lawndale group. “Don’t believe any of that nonsense that this is being built for somebody else.”

Local Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th) added, “We are all here together: Black, Brown, white. We all are invested in this community. And I urge each and every one of you to stay committed. Don’t let that fodder and that nonsense deter what it is that we’re doing. Because we’re doing a good thing.”

Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara simply ignored the protesters and talked over them about how home ownership has “long been denied to Black people in this country, in this city and, specifically, this neighborhood” of North Lawndale.

“Race-neutral policies do not lead to race-neutral results. We will have to be intentional to actively repair the intergenerational harm of private and government wealth extraction from Black Chicagoans,” Novara said. “That’s why we’re here today. Two hundred-fifty homes in North Lawndale will not only create new homeowners who will have the opportunity to build wealth. These new homes will also help to develop the entire community.”

Illinois Senate President Don Harmon said the $10 million in state funding for the program was the product of virtually nonstop lobbying by United Power. “They came to my office and came to my office and came to my office,” Harmon said with a smile. “I look forward to seeing you in my office in a week.”