Community leaders, Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (in back) and Ald. Daniel La Spata (blue shirt on left side) standing in front of the first house acquired by the Here To Stay Community Land Trust. Credit: Logan Square Neighborhood Association

LOGAN SQUARE — A collective of community groups in Logan Square and Hermosa have been working behind the scenes on an initiative to combat gentrification-fueled displacement in the area.

After about two years, their efforts are starting to take shape.

The organizations — Center for Changing Lives, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, LUCHA and Spanish Coalition for Housing — created their own community land trust two years ago and recently bought their first home. Now, the collective is looking for a buyer for the home at 3617 W. Cortland St., near the western end of The 606’s Bloomingdale Trail.

The goal of the effort, called the Here To Stay Community Land Trust, is to stop the cycle of displacement and help Latinx residents build wealth as gentrification continues to strip away affordable housing, board members said.

A community land trust owns and develops land for the benefit of the area. In the case of Here To Stay, the plan is to buy homes with subsidies and other funding sources and then sell them to families at a deep discount.

For example, the organizations are selling the Cortland Street home for $271,000, far less than its appraised value of $435,000. They can do that because they’re only selling the building, as the buyer will lease the land from the community land trust.

Protesters blocking traffic on Logan Square’s Milwaukee Avenue near the MiCa Towers. Credit: Aaron Cynic/Twitter

Because of this unique structure, homes owned by the community land trust will remain affordable in the long term. The property taxes are lower because the homes will be assessed at the affordable price and not the market value. Homeowners who choose to sell will be required to sell at a price that is affordable for the next owner.

If everything goes according to plan, the home will go to a family who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to buy in the neighborhood or a family who was forced out due to rising housing costs.

“There’s no scenario in which it’s easy to create affordable housing, but I think we’re poised to make a real impact here,” board member Kathy Tholin said.

‘One By One, The Families … Would Leave’

Community land trusts are common in other parts of the country, but they are only starting to pick up steam in Chicago, according to Here To Stay board members, who have worked closely with the Chicago Community Land Trust and people leading similar efforts over the past two years.

“We saw it as a tool. This is way to get a deep subsidy into a property. It’s still a lot less expensive than building a new affordable unit,” Yanun said.

There are similar efforts in the city’s South and West sides to acquire property and build or preserve affordable housing.

In North Lawndale, a group broke ground this year on two affordable homes they hope will be a model to build hundreds of houses on the South and West sides for working-class families. More recently, a developer is building a row of affordable two-flats on a stretch of vacant land through a city program to sell the lots for cheap. A row of townhomes in East Garfield Park are bound to a covenant with the Chicago Community Land Trust to keep them affordable for 30 years.

A land trust makes sense for Logan Square and Hermosa because the area is rapidly losing affordable housing stock, board members said. Logan Square has lost more than 20,000 Latino families since 2000. Meanwhile, the neighborhood’s white population has grown by more than 12,000. Community leaders fear Hermosa isn’t far behind.

Board member Natalie Zayas has personally watched Logan Square change. Zayas, director of program operations and strategy for Center for Changing Lives, grew up at Fullerton and Central Park avenues as the neighborhood was undergoing a major demographic shift.

“On my particular block where I grew up, there were 5-6 families where all [of] us had grown up together. … There’s maybe like one other family that I know from my childhood that still lives on that block. One by one, the childhood families would leave. They would share the same reason: Chicago is getting too expensive. Logan Square is changing so much,” Zayas said.

The community land trust is designed to help those families stay in their community and to keep the area’s Latinx community vibrant for years to come, Zayas said.

“When I consider how many families have left the area …. if they didn’t have to, because they had a choice, how might that change how the neighborhood changes in the next 10 years?” she said.

More than 50 youth leaders with the neighborhood group Logan Square Neighborhood Association protested the developer’s proposal in summer of 2017 at the development site at Diversey Avenue and Pulaski Road. Credit: Mina Bloom/Block Club Chicago

Chicago Metropolitan Housing Development Corporation and the Chicago Community Land Trust were instrumental in helping the Logan Square and Hermosa organizations acquire the Cortland Street home and fix it up, board members said. The Chicago Community Land Trust provided most of the subsidy needed to buy the home.

It was a word-of-mouth sale, said Susan Yanun with Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

“Because of The 606, so many homes have been torn down and really big, expensive homes have been built. This is a small house that definitely would’ve been torn down by a developer. The owner didn’t really want that. He had people calling him up and making offers. He reached out to one of our board members and said, ‘Are you guys interested?'” Yanun said.

Now, the organizations are looking for a buyer who earns 60-120 percent of the area median income, a “legacy family” who has lived in the community and sends their kids to neighborhood schools but can’t afford to buy, Yanun said.

“We’re not doing this so that folks who are coming from across Chicago can afford to live in these communities,” said board member Julio Pensamiento, of the Center for Changing Lives. “It’s about keeping those families that I see are leaving.”

But there are several challenges the organizations must overcome to make the community land trust a success. Board members said they need to bring more lenders and financial partners on board to expand the program to the point where it makes a difference in the area’s housing landscape.

Because community land trusts aren’t common in Chicago, many residents have trouble understanding exactly what it is and why they should get involved, board members said. Some potential homebuyers are undocumented, don’t speak English or distrust government and official programs.

Luckily, each of the organizations involved in the land trust have years of experience in finding Latinx residents affordable housing through workshops and programs, Pensamiento said.

“One of the things I try and lead with is … we’re a voice in the community, we’ve been here for 30-plus years. Tell us what your predispositions are and we can let you know what the reality is,” he said.

As the organizations look for a buyer for their first home, they’re also inviting residents to get involved in the effort. Anyone can sell their home to the community land trust. Residents or institutions can also donate money to the organizations to keep the program going. A North Side church recently made a $35,000 donation.

The plan is to sell 20 affordable homes over the course of the next few years with backing from Chicago Metropolitan Housing Development Corporation and other financial partners, Yanun said.

“We’re very enthusiastic. We’re very optimistic,” Tholin said. “It’s hard work, but we think there’s a lot of opportunity.”

For information about the community land trust, go here. Applications to buy the home at 3617 W. Cortland St . can be filled out online.

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Logan Square, Humboldt Park & Avondale reporterrnrnmina@blockclubchi.orgnnLogan Square, Humboldt Park & Avondale Twitter @mina_bloom_