$2.7 million initiative to spur real estate development on South and West sides
The Puerto Rican Cultural Center, Teamwork Englewood and the South Shore Chamber Community Development Corp. were selected through the Neighborhood Developers Initiative, run by Community Desk Chicago.
Juan Calderon has been involved with the Puerto Rican Cultural Center for most of his life.
He was a graduate of the center’s child care program and involved in its public health program. And he has become part of the Building Infrastructure for Human Services team — just as the center looks to create Puerto Rico Town.
“Our framework is visualized on self-determination, self-actualization and self-reliance,” said Calderon, 35. “Part of our 10-year vision is to repopulate Puerto Ricans and Latinos that have left the area, be that because of gentrification and displacement or high cost.”
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Puerto Rico Town would have four pillars: affordable housing, education resources, health care and a commercial corridor.
Now, through a new $2.7 million initiative, the affordable housing pillar is one step closer to coming together.
The Puerto Rican Cultural Center was one of three organizations selected to split funding from the Neighborhood Developers Initiative, a new program run by Community Desk Chicago with funding from the McCormick Foundation, The Chicago Community Trust, Polk Bros. Foundation and JPMorgan Chase.
The Desk was created by The Chicago Community Trust in 2019, in partnership with Boston Consulting Group’s Center for Illinois’ Future and JPMorgan Chase.
“It was really looking at what are some of the systemic issues that are impacting the ability for communities to move forward with projects and build robust project pipelines … to bring the necessary infrastructure to these communities,” explained Ja’Net Defell, director of The Desk.
In addition to the center, Teamwork Englewood and the South Shore Chamber Community Development Corp. were selected for the program, which will provide each group with resources for development.
“We spent a good chunk of time advocating for community projects that we believe are wealth building for communities and also improve the quality of life,” Defell said. “We were very intentional about targeting those types of projects, because generally those projects are riskier projects that often have very difficult times accessing the capital to move those projects forward.”
The Desk was also intentional about supporting communities of color, “neighborhoods where there was potential concern around gentrification,” said Defell. She added these communities were also ripe with “opportunities to transform neighborhoods because of a big event.”
In South Shore, that “big event” is the Obama Presidential Center.
“The South Shore community is rich in assets,” said Tonya Trice, the Chamber’s executive director. “With the announcement of the Obama Presidential Center coming less than a mile away, there are investors that are interested in the South Shore community, and we want to make sure that we have a voice and a seat at the table, so that what happens in the South Shore community is reflective of the residents and the stakeholders in the community.”
The two-year program will culminate in the creation of a community development project by each organization. Financial assistance will be doled out in phases; so far, a planning grant has been disbursed.
Next steps include a financial assessment of the groups’ current abilities to achieve their goals, which leads to an action plan for their community development projects and customized learning programs around real estate.
Each group is also provided a consultant. Trips around the country will also be covered by The Desk so the groups can learn from other community organizations.
The funds will allow Teamwork Englewood to build upon their Englewood Quality of Life Initiative, a community-driven plan organizing and supporting economic development efforts in the neighborhood.
“We want to support that momentum and add to the growth that can happen in Greater Englewood,” said Cecile DeMello, executive director for Teamwork Englewood. “We are eager to learn, bring those leanings to the community and build in a community that desperately needs sustainable economic development.”
Sustainable development is one key factor for the program, Defell said.
“So often in neighborhoods, people think the solution is a big catalytic project,” she said. “We have to move beyond the catalytic project because in most cases, especially when you talk about Black and Latinx communities, you assume that the market will take over, and it doesn’t always happen that way.”
For Calderon, The Desk is providing the center a chance to serve their community.
“This is our culture,” he said. “Oftentimes, we’ve had to patch resources together. This is a one-time, capacity-building program [that] continues to build on what we as an organization have been moving for over the last 50 years.”
Cheyanne M. Daniels is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.