NORTH LAWNDALE — A West Side community development group broke ground on a pair of homes as part of a movement to build houses in North Lawndale that working-class families can afford.
By creating opportunities for legacy residents to become homeowners, the Lawndale Christian Development Corporation aims to open pathways for longtime residents to build generational wealth and have ownership of the community.
“For people of color, homeownership has been the primary vehicle by which regular folks have had an opportunity to have wealth,” said Richard Townsell, executive director of Lawndale Christian Development Corporation.
The two homes being built at 1621 S. Avers Ave. will be affordable for families earning a combined income of $50,000, Townsell said. One of the houses will be factory-built by Kinexx Modular Construction, and another will be built by local developer, Breaking Ground.
Lawndale Christian Development Corporation is working in partnership with United Power to plan 1,000 affordable houses on the West Side and 1,000 on the South Side to working-class families. The first two houses will be used as “research and development” to test potential construction processes and designs before scaling the project to build more affordable homes.
“These are going to be models, potentially, for what we want to build on the South and West Side, for everyday people, for working people, and not just for elites,” Townsell said.
Keeping the neighborhood affordable is one of the core goals outlined in the North Lawndale Quality-Of-Life Plan, a resident-driven blueprint for improving the community. The plan includes strategies for improving local schools, making Lawndale safer and strengthening the local economy.
The plan prioritizes affordable housing so that as other aspects of Lawndale improve, longtime residents won’t be pushed out and can be the first to benefit from the revitalization of the neighborhood.
“The ability for us to own now will mean we will have some staying power and not be moved out of the neighborhood, as we have seen done in other neighborhoods where gentrification forces have pushed out people of color,” Townsell said.
The need for homeownership opportunities for North Lawndale families follows a racist history of redlining, contract selling and predatory lending that has long made buying a home out of reach for most Black people.
Redlining is when banks and governments work together to block Black families from taking out mortgages to buy a home in certain neighborhoods. Redlining has been illegal since 1968, but banks still rarely offer mortgages in Black neighborhoods, a recent report by WBEZ and City Bureau showed.
Federal data showed more home loan dollars were lent out in Lincoln Park than in all Black neighborhoods in the city combined. JPMorgan Chase loaned 41 times more money in white neighborhoods than in Black neighborhoods, the report found.
“So many of our folks in North Lawndale have been denied wealth,” Townsell said. “For us, it’s about, how do we create wealth for people of color.”
The houses are being developed using state tax credits and with support from United Power member organizations including the Illinois Facilities Fund and All Saints Episcopal Church.
Lawndale Christian Development Corporation is working on other housing initiatives to build on city-owned lots, develop housing cooperatives and renovate vacant homes that have deteriorated. The organization hosts homebuyer education workshops and training opportunities to create a pipeline of longtime residents who will be fully prepared to purchase the homes being built and rehabbed.
The education programs will “provide the opportunity for people who currently live in this community … to prepare them from beginning to end to be able to purchase this once these homes are made,” said outreach and training specialist Amber Hendley.
Owning property isn’t only about breaking the cycles that have kept wealth out of the hands of Black people, said resident Lauren Lewis. Homeownership is just as much about giving residents control over their own neighborhood, she said.
“Bringing homes helps us gain the capacity to have the great developments that we deserve,” said resident Lauren Lewis. “Resident-owned opportunities to continue to keep wealth within the community is key.”
Homeownership is also an avenue for building collective power so residents can demand their fair share of public goods and services, said Richard Townsell.
The North Lawndale Homeowners Association successfully pressured the city to renovate Douglass Branch Library in 2018. Homeowners were sick of having a practically unusable library that had been decrepit for decades, so they took their demands to a Chicago Public Library Board meeting.
The board eventually committed $2.15 million to rehabbing Douglass Branch Library, which now has a recording studio, 3D-printers and an improved auditorium.
“As we grow our [homeowners association,] what else could we organize around? Oftentimes, whatever is going on Downtown dictates what happens in our neighborhoods,” Townsell said. “We want to be in a position to be able to negotiate and have agency over the future of our neighborhood. “
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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