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Chicago Southwest Rehabs … One Family at a Time

It’s an innovative coming together of the public, private and community-based sectors to begin repairing widespread damage caused by the epidemic of home foreclosures on Chicago’s Southwest Side.

Chicago Lawn renters Chris and Keana Lindo think the neighborhood has a lot going for it and are keen to purchase a home there. Organizations such as NHS and SWOP are helping them do it.

John McCarron

But for the Lindo family on South Rockwell Street, it’s simply a chance to raise their four children in a neighborhood – and a public school – they all love.

“It” is a unique purchase-and-rehab program being rolled out by LISC lead agency Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) in partnership with Brinshore Development LLC, a private company skilled in the complex art of developing affordable housing.

The idea is to combine newly available public funding with market-rate private loans so as to purchase and rehabilitate more than 100 vacant and foreclosed dwellings in the Chicago Lawn/Southwest Chicago area.      

That’s a tall order. First there’s the difficulty of gaining control over scores of foreclosed bungalows and two- and four-flats, what with ownership often tied in legal knots. Then there’s the considerable expense of refurbishing dwellings that most often have been stripped of anything of value, especially anything metallic.

Seeking buyers and renters

But the most difficult part, according to experts at SWOP and Brinshore, is recruiting families with the financial and social capital to buy or rent the rehabbed housing at prices that make the numbers work.

“The hardest part for us,” said David McDowell, SWOP’s senior organizer, “is how do you find people who want to live in this neighborhood and how do you get them to be able to buy the homes? This is a great neighborhood. People want to come back to it. The challenge is helping them do it.”

So SWOP and Brinshore have enlisted some expert help. The local office of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago (NHS) is identifying potential purchasers. If families need help boosting their incomes or credit rating in order to qualify for a mortgage, expert assistance is available through the Southwest REACH Center and its LISC-supported Center for Working Families.

What’s being called the “Reclaiming Southwest Chicago Campaign” got an early boost last year when Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan included the effort among those that will receive funds from a damage settlement she and other state AGs won from the sub-prime mortgage industry. That initial $3 million is being supplemented by $900,000 in city housing funds. And recently Gov. Pat Quinn promised an additional $4 million in state funds.

The MacArthur Foundation is providing $690,000 over three years for staffing, data collection, technical support and effectiveness evaluation, all part of LISC’s five-neighborhood Testing The Model effort.

NHS's Mike Reardon, left, and SWOP's David McDowell are engaged in creative neighborhood matchmaking - connecting potential homebuyers with recently rehabbed properties.

John McCarron

Target area

“This market is at a tipping point,” said David Brint, co-founder and principal of Brinshore. “You have a lot of committed people in the neighborhood, a lot of institutions, a great housing stock.”

So even though the target area – between Western and Kedzie avenues from 55th Street to Marquette Road – is pocked with boarded-up foreclosures, conditions are ripe for a turnaround … with a little push.

Brint points to the rebound just to the north in Back of the Yards, where the rehab of several dozen dwellings by The Resurrection Project, another LISC neighborhood partner, has stirred market forces. The biggest problem – a problem that has frustrated the federally-funded Neighborhood Stabilization Program, or NSP – is finding families willing to and capable of assuming a mortgage, even a subsidized mortgage.

That’s where SWOP and NHS roll up their sleeves. They’ve developed an informal list of 80 families who are ready, or could be made ready after a year of renting, to buy one of the rehabs. Working with other neighborhood institutions like St. Rita and St. Nicholas Catholic parishes, Holy Cross Hospital, the Greater Southwest Development Corp. and United Power, they’ve identified a dozen foreclosed dwellings for Brinshore to begin.

Brint said his firm learned valuable lessons rehabbing foreclosed buildings for the City of Evanston. One is to supervise construction crews closely so as to achieve economies of scale. Two is using as much local labor as possible.

Brint agreed with McDowell, though, that the ultimate key is recruiting and preparing responsible buyers – buyers like the Lindo family. That takes more than a rehabbed house. It takes a safe, desirable neighborhood with good schools.    

While Chicago Lawn has come a long way since 2008, when this photo was taken, the struggle to rehab and occupy vacant houses is far from over.

Alex Fledderjohn

School as anchor

“Morrill Elementary has been a foundation for us,” said Chris Lindo in explaining why they want to stay near 63rd and Rockwell. His wife, Keana Lindo, has been serving as a parent-mentor at the math-and-science school that is just a block north of the two-flat where they rent the first-floor apartment.

Their oldest daughter, Aziah, thrived at Morrill and is now an honor student at Instituto Career Academy. Her younger sister, a Morrill 5th grader, stays after school to tutor classmates; 4th grader Chris Jr. is a competitive dancer there; and 2nd grader Amiyah wants to be just like her big sisters.

“Our goal is to make sure our kids grow up the right way,” said Chris, who works as a bellman at the Drake Hotel. “We believe in the long haul for this community. We feel at home here.”

Yet the family has been buffeted twice by ill winds of foreclosure. As renters they were forced to move out of other South Side apartments because their landlords weren’t keeping up on mortgage payments. Little wonder they now want to own, either by buying their current two-flat … or one of the buildings about to be rehabbed by SWOP/Brinshore.

“It’s a matter of getting our finances together,” explained the 38-year-old Chris. And that, added Keana, 34, means her getting a job … and getting current on some bills.

“This is about developing homeowners as well as developing buildings,” said Mike Reardon, who directs the NHS office on 63rd Street and has been on the front lines of the foreclosure fight. “We can help the Lindo family get where they need to be. It’s families like theirs that create the kind of community other families want. Find a hundred Lindo families and you turn around a neighborhood.”

More information:

Harry Meyer, SWOP, 773-471-8208 harry.swop@gmail.com

Mike Reardon, NHS Chicago Lawn, 773-434-9632, mreardon@nhschicago.org

David Brint, Brinshore Development, 224-927-5052 davidb@brinshore.com

Posted in Housing, Back of the Yards, Chicago Lawn

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Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago connects neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier.

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