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93% off! LISC Hopes Deep Divvy Discount Leads to Much More

Still think bicycles are a kids’ toy? Or just the current fad among “active” adults out for a joy ride on the lakefront?

Well, think again.

Before recommending Divvy Bikes to her clients, Bronzeville FOC Director Lynnette Washington field tested one in the Loop.

Gordon Walek

Some bikes are used that way. But the dozen powder blue Divvy bikes newly located in the automated rack at 47th and Martin Luther King Drive are something else entirely.

They are, potentially, two-wheeled tickets to a new job … and maybe a new life. Certainly they are a new way for customers to reach the stores, the bank, the barber shop and the comedy club located near that Bronzeville intersection.

Jobs and economic development – not what most people think of when they think about bicycles – are two key reasons LISC Chicago is at the center of a coalition seeking to make rent-a-bikes affordable to low- to moderate-income residents on Chicago’s South and West sides.

$5 vs. $75

The bottom line for Chicago’s new Divvy for Everyone (D4E) program is simple enough. Instead of paying $75 a year to subscribe to the city’s popular rent-a-bike system, folks can join Divvy for just $5 by signing up at one of five neighborhood Financial Opportunity Centers (FOC) supported by LISC Chicago.

Now entering its third year, the Divvy program has proven itself on the North Side and other more affluent quarters of the city. But it’s been a tough sell in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods. Though the service has added scores of bike docking stations in those neighborhoods, the $75 initial buy-in has been seen as a major barrier, as has the need for a credit or debit card for those who lack credit and/or are unbanked.

So recently the bicycle industry’s Better Bike Share Partnership made a $75,000 grant to the city to subsidize memberships. And that gesture was promptly matched here by Divvy’s advertising sponsor – Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL is also a major supporter to LISC Chicago). Still needed, however, was a mechanism to screen and enroll applicants in the targeted neighborhoods.

That’s when LISC Chicago stepped up by volunteering the services of five of its 12 Financial Opportunity Centers, four of which are located on the city’s South and West sides.

“It’s the right thing to do, the right partners, and for the right reason,” explained Susana Vasquez, LISC Chicago’s executive director, following the unveiling of the program July 8th in front of The Cara Program Quad Communities Financial Opportunity Center at 47th and King Drive.

FOC directors, cycling organizers and CDOT representatives at a meeting earlier this summer to work out details of the subsidized Divvy program.

Gordon Walek

Mayor Rahm Emanuel beamed at the mixed crowd of downtown media and neighborhood leaders, asserting that “Divvy only works when everyone has a chance to use it.”

“Cost was still a barrier for too many people,” said the mayor, though he did note that Divvy set a one-day city-wide record July 4th with 24,500 trips. “So today we are bridging gaps by offering $5 annual memberships so more residents can benefit regardless of their ability to pay.”

More than a ride

Other members of the D4E coalition pledged to spread the word about the discounted fee and, as important, to talk up the benefits, both to one’s self and to the neighborhood, of cycling.

“We can utilize bikes to transform lives and, by doing that, the conditions in our neighborhoods,” declared Oboi Reed, co-founder and president of Slow Roll Chicago. Wider use of bikes, he said, leads to “reducing violence, improving health and creating jobs. Today is a step toward getting more people of color, and more low- and moderate-income people, to look at bikes as a form of transportation.”

But it was left to Lynnette Washington, site director of The Cara Program Quad Communities Financial Opportunity Center, to explain how precisely the Divvy program fits into the Centers’ mission of helping people find work and build family wealth.

“We have people in these neighborhoods who are turning down jobs simply because they have no way to get there,” said Washington, who leads the Cara Program staff that operates the Bronzeville Financial Opportunity Center. “So this isn’t so much about exercise or fresh air. It’s about gaining personal empowerment and financial stability.”

Once someone comes through the door to apply for a Divvy key, she said, they also can be drawn to other services the centers offer. Previously called Centers for Working Families (CWF), each of the 12 Financial Opportunity Center sites are affiliated with a neighborhood partner of LISC Chicago. In Bronzeville that’s the Quad Communities Development Corporation. Services range from job placement and training to public benefits counseling to credit-building techniques, such as obtaining – and staying current on – a credit card account.

JARC's Sheryl Morris, CCL's Alexandra Canalos, CARA's Lynnette Washington, LISC's Jennifer McClain, and LISC's Dominique Williams at the Daley Plaza Divvy station.

Gordon Walek

As they screen Divvy applicants to make sure they earn less than 300 percent of poverty level (currently $35,310 for an individual, $72,750 for a family of four) Financial Opportunity Center counselors will be suggesting those and other services, such as help filing one’s income tax return … enrolling in public benefits, such as Medicaid… financial coaching…and, assistance with job training and placement.

One goal, say Divvy officials, is to boost an applicant’s financial status so that, by the end of that first subsidized year, they’ll be able to pay the full $75 for year two. 

Where to apply

Those seeking $5 Divvy memberships – and maybe even a free bike helmet that Blue Cross Blue Shield is providing the first 250 applicants – are asked to first call for hours of operation, then bring proof of residency and income to one of the five participating Centers. They are:

  • Cara Program/Quad Communities, 4665 S. King Dr., 2nd flr. 773-924-2438
  • Metropolitan Family Services, 747 W. 63rd St. 773-487-3723 or 773-487-3747 
  • Central States SER, 10 S. Kedzie Ave., 773-722-3885
  • Center for Changing Lives, 1955 N. St. Louis Ave. #101, 773-342-6210
  • Jane Addams Resource Corp., 4432 N. Ravenswood Ave. 773-751-7119 or 773-728-9769 ext. 60 

More information about the Divvy program is available on the Web at or by calling 855-55-DIVVY

Posted in Economic Development, Financial Opportunities


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