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Hundreds Help Reclaim Southwest Side Housing

The much-abused three-story walk-up overlooking the corner of 62nd and South Washtenaw isn’t much to look at – just yet – but keep an eye on her now that she’s been blessed by a crowd of some 300 determined neighbors and activists.

Jeff Bartow, of the Southwest Organizing Project, said a LISC Chicago grant was a catalyst for his organization's efforts to fight foreclosure and blight. 

Photos by John McCarron

The 13-unit apartment building is the first property purchased out of foreclosure through Reclaiming Southwest Chicago, a campaign launched by the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) with seed funding from LISC Chicago.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, October 26, the red brick board-up provided a dramatic backdrop for a rally celebrating its purchase, staged by SWOP and the like-minded regional coalition to which it belongs, United Power for Action and Justice.

Fighting foreclosures and the blight they can bring has been a priority for SWOP. The group estimates that, between December of 2007 and February 2013, the Southwest Side was hit with some 15,000 foreclosures, leaving communities there pocked with boarded-up bungalows and two-flats that drag down everyone’s value.

With an important election only eight days away, Gov. Pat Quinn took a turn at the podium to hail the Reclaiming effort. He even made a bit of news by promising, if reelected, to significantly increase state funding for recycling thousands of similarly foreclosed residential buildings throughout the state.

Quinn reminded those gathered in the intersection behind Fairfield Elementary School that he pushed the state legislature to include $150 million for housing, including $4 million earmarked for SWOP, in the state’s 2009 capital improvement budget. It was the first time affordable housing had been included in the proceeds of an Illinois public works bond.

SWOP's Betty Gutierrez, left, and United Power's DiAne Boese called for a sustained campaign to rehab housing and reclaim neighborhoods.

Challenged at the podium by rally leaders to do this again on the next public works bond issue – assuming he's reelected – Quinn leapt to the microphone and exclaimed: “Why stop at $150 million? Let’s go for $250 million!”

But rally co-leaders DiAne Boese of United Power and Betty Gutierrez of SWOP were quick to remind the crowd that this rally was not about politics or the election or anyone’s campaign.

“We know there’s an election soon and there are campaigns going on,” announced Boese, with Gutierrez echoing sequentially in Spanish. “But the campaign we are leading and committed to is the campaign to save our block, our neighborhoods, our city and our state… and this campaign will not end on November 4th.”

Bless this housing

Later in the program, a multi-denominational group of religious leaders asked the crowd to turn and face the apartment building, raise their hands and join in asking the Almighty’s help in fixing and re-populating it with local families.

David Brint, whose Brinshore Development LLC is partnering with SWOP, said the building, at 2652 W. 61st St., is the first of 50 to 70 foreclosed dwelling units that will be purchased and rehabbed through Reclaiming Southwest Chicago, many within a four-block radius of Fairfield School and the adjacent St. Rita of Cascia Catholic parish.

The building is also within the 16-block targeted area of SWOP’s Micro Market Recovery Program (MMRP), a city- and state-funded effort focused in 13 areas in the city to redevelop and stabilize areas hit by the foreclosure crisis.

Eight of the building’s 13 apartments will be rent-subsidized via a combination of city, state and federal housing funds. LISC Chicago primed the effort early-on by conveying a three-year grant to SWOP as part of a partnership with the MacArthur Foundation and five New Communities Network lead agencies.

Gov. Pat Quinn promised, if reelected, to significantly increase state funding for recycling thousands of foreclosed residential buildings throughout the state.

“LISC’s grant got us started because it supports our staffing, our housing counseling and our outcomes measurement,” explained Jeff Bartow, SWOP’s executive director. Government subsidies are key to the bricks-and-mortar part, he said, but the more flexible funds enable what may be the tougher part of the program – identifying and preparing local working families to take on property ownership for the single family homes.

It helped that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan included Reclaiming among those programs that will receive funds from damage settlements she and other state AGs have won from the sub-prime mortgage industry. That initial $3 million is being supplemented by $900,000 in city housing funds, IHDA rent subsidies and the $4 million in state bond proceeds.

Brint credited the nonprofit Community Investment Corp. for helping with purchase of the walk-up, a building that not only dominates that corner but is emblematic of the damage done to the Chicago Lawn neighborhood by the sub-prime fiasco. He said the building was an example of “condo fraud” wherein a fast-buck purchaser claims to be converting the apartments into condos, then colludes with straw buyers to obtain mortgages on each unit, only to walk away with the cash.

The main idea behind Reclaiming, said Brint, is to show what can be done in a small area so that private investors and lenders will rediscover Chicago Lawn as a viable and desirable place to live.

Posted in Housing, Chicago Lawn


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