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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

Hundreds Of Homes To Be Built For Working-Class Families On West Side Vacant Lots: ‘How Do We Create Wealth For People Of Color?’

The mayor announced the city will sell 250 vacant lots for $1 to support the Reclaiming Communities Campaign to promote homeownership.

Greystone homes in North Lawndale.
Pascal Sabino/Block Club
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NORTH LAWNDALE — The city announced Monday it’s selling 250 vacant West Side lots to a community-led campaign that plans to build affordable homes with the help of city, state and private investment.

The Reclaiming Communities Campaign is an effort to transform at least 1,000 of the countless vacant lots on the South and West sides into affordable, quality homes for working class families.

The initiative is being led by the Lawndale Christian Development Corporation in partnership with Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives and United Power for Action and Justice, a coalition of 31 civic and religious organizations that leverage their collective power for improving communities.

“It’s an organizing campaign by which we are going to work with the city to build homes for working people,” said Richard Townsell, executive director of Lawndale Christian Development Corporation. “We want to be in a position to be able to negotiate and have agency over the future of our neighborhood.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the city would jumpstart the project by selling 250 of the city-owned lots in North Lawndale to the coalition for $1 each. The city is also dedicating $5.3 million in funding from the Ogden/Pulaski Tax Increment Financing district to support site remediation and lot preparation for the first 250 homes, the mayor said.

Townsell estimates there may be as many as 3,000 vacant lots in North Lawndale. Lawndale Christian Development Corporation has been working with United Power towards building homes on 1,000 of those vacant lots since 2019, Townsell said.

The campaign to expand homeownership in Lawndale is an effort to create more avenues for building generational wealth and providing Black residents with opportunities for upward mobility, Townsell said. Historically, homeownership has been the golden ticket for Black families to have financial stability, he said, but opportunities for homeownership have been notoriously slim in Black communities.

“For us, it’s about, how do we create wealth for people of color?” Townsell said.

By joining with Lawndale Christian Development Corporation and United Power to help build the houses, the city is beginning to undo the legacy of housing policy rooted in racism that has deprived Black neighborhoods of quality homes and wealth-building opportunities, Lightfoot said.

“Make no mistake, the elusive nature of homeownership is modern day manifestation of decades of discriminatory practices. Things like predatory loans, redlining, segregation and far too many other things that keep us locked out from homeownership,” Lightfoot said.

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.

The Rebuilding Communities Campaign has attracted public and private investment that will ensure the homes are accessible to legacy residents, organizers said. Over $12 million has been committed to building the homes from private investors including JPMorgan Chase and the Steans Family Foundation, Townsell said.

An additional $10 million in state funding has been allocated to the campaign “which will help with subsidies for our home buyers. So it’ll take a $250,000 house and make it roughly a $220,000 house,” said Kevin Sutton, executive director of the Foundation for Homan Square.

The houses are expected to be completed in three to five years, Townsell said. The homes are designed to be affordable to a family with a combined annual family income of $50,000.

Ald. Michael Scott (24th) hopes the campaign will help reignite the local economy in Lawndale by creating jobs and wealth among residents that will circulate through the community.

“Rooftops create economic development. Economic development creates jobs for our community. Our jobs in our community creates a better model for public safety. It is all cyclical,” Scott said.

The Reclaiming Communities Campaign reaches beyond the West Side as well. The Southwest Organizing Project, a United Power Member, previously launched a similar effort to build houses on 98 vacant lots in a 20-block area of Chicago Lawn, resulting in significant crime reductions and improvements to local schools, Townsell said. United Power also aims to build 1000 homes in Roseland on the South Side, he said.

“It’s not just about North Lawndale. It’s about rebuilding the South and West sides for working people,” Townsell said.

Watch the announcement of the program here:

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