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On the Southwest Side, community rebuilds after mortgage crisis, rabbi writes

Foreclosures from 2011-2013 in a portion of the Southwest Side

Foreclosures from 2011-2013 in a portion of the Southwest Side. | Southwest Organizing Project

The mortgage crisis of 2008 hit Chris and Keana Lindo sideways.

They were renting their home on the Southwest Side when their landlord went into foreclosure.

“My family and I moved in the neighborhood and immediately felt at home. The neighbors were welcoming, and I loved the school my children attended,” Keana Lindo said.

Then, without warning, the Lindos were forced to move. Within days, the windows of their former home were boarded up with giant sheets of plywood.

The mortgage crisis disproportionately affected communities of color and struck the Southwest Side brutally.

Chicago Lawn saw so many foreclosures between 2011 and 2012 that a Google Map of foreclosures in that neighborhood looks like a sea of red. One big swath — from 59th to 63rd streets between California and Rockwell — had 93 properties left vacant or abandoned. A neighborhood struggling but surviving was being pushed over the brink.

Then, the Southwest Organizing Project — SWOP — stepped in after the community came together through conversations to save the neighborhood, according to lead organizer Jeff Bartow.

Even with strong anchor institutions like St. Rita parish, the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, Morrill Elementary and Fairfield Academy,  community members realized they alone couldn’t tackle 700–plus vacant and abandoned properties. So SWOP worked with United Power and Brinshore Development on that one especially troubled area.

Rabbi Seth Limmer | Provided photo

Financing for the first phase of the project started with $3 million from the state. Soon after, then-Gov. Pat Quinn pledged another $4 million. These funds were leveraged with private capital to raise total funding for the project to $15 million.

The city got quite a return on investment for $900,000 — 80 vacant buildings transformed into affordable homes, safe streets and improving schools.

Here’s hoping the city steps up with a big investment for the second phase.

What SWOP and its partners have been able to do is remarkable. There are now only 13 board-ups, and most of the homes have been refurbished. The care shown for the housing market has extended to the arenas of public safety and education.

A walk around the neighborhood — which I took four years ago and then again recently — offers evidence of a stable, working-class community with great pride. The target area now has everything anyone would want: affordable homes, safe streets, good schools.

Following the successes of the first phase, SWOP has its sights set on adding 70 blocks to the target area. Phase 2 calls for investing in more than 200 properties. Members are trying to raise another $10 million, to again leverage into even more funding until all 200 homes — and the neighborhood — are restored.

In this expanded area, the communities around Holy Cross Hospital, the Maria Kaupas Center, Catalyst Maria High School and McKay School will help lead the way.

If all of this seems like it’s just dollars and buildings, make no mistake: SWOP is changing lives.

Forced after 2008 to leave the neighborhood, the Lindos decided to try to return. With the guidance of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, they now are renting in their community and saving to be homeowners in a neighborhood taking charge of its own change.

Since moving back, the Lindo family has gotten more engaged with SWOP. Keana Lindo is a parent-mentor coordinator and works with young people at Morrill. She has gotten her associate’s degree in business administration and soon will start school to become a social worker.

“SWOP has changed my life for the better,” Keana Lindo said. “They are reclaiming the neighborhood for the people who live in the neighborhood, rebuilding hope and dreams in the community. They are also building leaders like myself. Reclaiming the Southwest Side has given this community life, the schools are succeeding, and the community is vibrant.”

If the mortgage crisis hit the Lindo family sideways, they, together with their organized community, now plan a great course of success into the future.

Seth M. Limmer is senior rabbi of Chicago Sinai Congregation. Sun-Times CEO Edwin Eisendrath is a member of Limmer’s congregation.