LOGAN SQUARE — Grisel and Jonathan Lapham wanted to buy their first home in Logan Square, but the gentrifying neighborhood with skyrocketing housing prices felt out of reach, they said.
Now, thanks to a new community land trust formed by a coalition of community groups and backed by city officials, the Laphams are Logan Square homeowners. The couple recently bought a three-bedroom ranch near The 606’s Bloomingdale Trail and Central Park Avenue.
“We never would’ve imagined it would be possible to purchase a home in this neighborhood, let alone a single-family home,” Jonathan Lapham said. “We were always very superstitious, we never felt like it was going to happen, but the day we felt it would … it was honestly like a miracle.”
More than a few dozen community leaders and city officials, including city housing Commissioner Marisa Novara and state Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas, gathered Wednesday afternoon to celebrate with the Laphams, the first family to buy a home under the Here To Stay Community Land Trust.
A group of local organizations — Palenque LSNA, formerly Logan Square Neighborhood Association; the Center for Changing Lives; LUCHA and the Spanish Coalition for Housing — launched the community land trust about five years ago to fight displacement in Logan Square, Avondale and Hermosa.
The effort is taking off with support from a growing list of housing organizations and developers, including Chicago Metropolitan Housing Development Corporation and the Chicago Housing Trust.
Under the Here To Stay Community Land Trust, participating organizations buy properties with subsidies and other funding before selling them to families seeking affordable homes.
A unique arrangement allows the organizations to sell the homes at a deep discount: The community land trust only sells the building — not the land. Buyers lease the land from the community land trust.
In the case of the Laphams’ home, the organizations put it on the market for $271,000, far less than its appraised value of $435,000.
Grisel Lapham, a first-generation Mexican American, was born in the Logan Square and Humboldt Park area and spent a lot of time there growing up, even after her family moved to the South Side. Her parents’ first apartment was in Logan Square.
“Our childhood bakery where we got all of our cakes was Roeser’s on North [Avenue]. I was born at Norwegian Hospital in Humboldt Park. So I feel like that is instilled in me … there’s something there that brings me back to the area,” she said.
Grisel and Jonathan Lapham, 35 and 38, have rented apartments in Chicago on and off for nearly two decades, most recently in West Lawn. Grisel Lapham is a teacher who was recently hired at Casals School of Excellence in Humboldt Park, while Jonathan Lapham oversees education and training at Chicago’s Nabisco plant.
Jonathan Lapham said the home-buying process felt “daunting” at first, especially after getting their mortgage pre-approval. But when they found the home’s listing online — and connected with the organizations behind the community land trust — things fell into place, he said.
“It was the first house we saw, and right after we saw it, we had our hearts set on it,” he said.
There are many more families like the Laphams who have deep roots in the neighborhood but can’t afford the rising home prices, community leaders said at Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The “anti-displacement” community land trust aims to break down those barriers and create a pathway to home ownership for Black and Latinx families who have been driven out of the neighborhood, said Juliet De Jesus Alejandre, Palenque LSNA’s executive director.
“We’re not supposed to be here,” De Jesus Alejandre said. “This is not supposed to happen. You’re not supposed to have an affordable home next to The 606 because that’s what they tell us. But yet, here we are.
“We’re breaking the norm in a gentrifying community. The norm is building big, luxurious housing for the rich, and the subsequent displacement of low- and moderate-income families. In our case, 20,000 Latinx families have been displaced from Logan Square since 2000.”
The community land trust is about “reclaiming our right to live in the city,” De Jesus Alejandre said.
A DePaul University study from 2018 found home prices along the western portion of The Bloomingdale Trail have jumped a whopping 344 percent since 2012. These findings, along with census data, have sparked a number of legislative policies in recent years aimed at curbing gentrification-fueled displacement in the Logan Square area.
As the community land trust picks up steam, organizers and elected officials said they’re working on acquiring more funding to expand the program across the city. Community land trusts are used in other parts of the country to fight displacement, but they are only beginning to take off in Chicago.
Grisel Lapham said she was out walking her dog in the neighborhood recently when she heard a grandmother greeting kids in Spanish — “the sound of her voice filled with care and fragility, reminding me who I am and why I’m here.”
“It’s been years since I felt grounded, and I’m starting to feel like I’m where I belong.”
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