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SWOP receives $750,000 MacArthur award

The Southwest Organizing Project, LISC Chicago’s New Communities Program lead agency in Chicago Lawn, has received a $750,000 award from the MacArthur Foundation in recognition of its efforts to help residents overcome foreclosures and violence.

Each red dot on this 2009 map represents a foreclosed home in the 60629 zip code, which includes Chicago Lawn.


That’s big money for a scrappy outfit like SWOP, whose 15 employees work in a warren of rooms amid banged-up furniture on the second floor of a building at 2609 W. 63rd St. Some of the money, says SWOP Executive Director Jeff Bartow, will be used to find larger quarters for the nonprofit’s offices.

Chicago Lawn is, in many respects, ground zero for the city’s foreclosure crisis. Too many of the neighborhood’s sturdy brick two-flats and bungalows are boarded up and abandoned – their former owners victims of subprime mortgages, unemployment and other residual effects of the 2008 financial meltdown.

SWOP, without a lot of help, has been a lonely advocate for those at the bottom of the economic food chain – working people who’d scrimped and saved to realize the dream of home ownership only to have it yanked from under them by forces beyond their control. Through community organizing, foreclosure counseling, and other efforts, SWOP’s doing what it can to alleviate the suffering.

In 2009, SWOP worked with Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago and the Bank of America on loan modification applications for residents fighting to save their homes.

David McDowell

For more than 10 years, LISC Chicago, with support from the MacArthur Foundation and others, has provided grants and community planning skills to SWOP and its partners to address problems in the areas of education, safety and foreclosure. For the last year, SWOP and LISC Chicago have been developing a program that will allow the organization to more effectively and efficiently match vacant properties with interested local buyers and help them arrange reasonable financing.

Like its more famous “genius” awards, MacArthur’s Award for Creative and Effective Institutions (SWOP was one of 13 institutions in five countries to receive it on February 27) doesn’t stem from a nomination or a recommendation. To qualify, organizations must have demonstrated “exceptional creativity and effectiveness,” among other things, been a previous MacArthur grantee, and engaged in work central to one of MacArthur’s core programs. MacArthur long ago identified foreclosures as a major societal ill and has been supporting creative solutions to the problem.

As an award winner, SWOP’s in impressive company. Other awardees include StoryCorps ($1 million), which captures, shares (via public radio) and archives stories of a diverse range of Americans for future generations (and will be in Chicago this spring); the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University ($750,000), which protects the rights and well-being of young people in the juvenile justice system; and the Housing Partnership Network ($1.5 million), a Boston-based organization that fosters collaboration among more than 100 affordable housing and community development leaders. See descriptions of all winners and videos about their work.


Posted in Housing, Chicago Lawn


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