NORTH LAWNDALE — A community-led plan to build hundreds of affordable homes on the West Side will receive millions in city funding that will allow developers to significantly lower prices for buyers.
The affordable housing project, Reclaiming Communities Campaign, is led by the Lawndale Christian Development Corporation and will build 250 homes on vacant lots in the first phase. The goal is for the homes to be affordable to families with a combined income of $50,000.
City Council voted Wednesday to devote $5.3 million from two West Side tax increment financing (TIF) districts that will reimburse Lawndale Christian Development Corporation for the environmental remediation work that must happen on the lots before construction on the houses can begin.
The Lawndale group previously built two model homes at 1621 S. Avers Ave. to test potential construction processes and designs before scaling up the project. Since the homes were built on long-vacant lots, they required significant soil remediation and infrastructure upgrades, said Richard Townsell, the group’s executive director.
“Those first two homes, we had to pay for those improvements. We had to put in water service, a new sewer, do all the excavation,” Townsell said. “If we take that out of the cost of the house, it’s more affordable for everyday folks.”
The first two homes cost around $265,000 to build, Townsell said. But with the city’s incentives, as well as $10 million in subsidies from the state capital budget, Townsell expects the houses will eventually sell for $200,000 or less, depending on fluctuations in the price of lumber and steel.
It is essential for the city to create accessible homeownership opportunities for Black families on the South and West Sides, Townsell said. Chicago has a long history of denying Black people the chance to own homes and homeownership has historically been the main avenue for Black families to build generational wealth, he said.
“There was a history where Black folks were denied the opportunity to own a home. There was panic peddling. There was redlining,” Townsell 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, reporting from 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 ability for our folks to have the opportunity to create wealth for their families, it’s hard to come by in places like North Lawndale,” Townsell said. “We want to make sure everyday folks have the ability to create equity and participate in the system the same way everybody else does.”
Homeownership is also an avenue for building collective power so residents can improve the local economy, reduce crime, get more investment into education and demand better public goods and services, Townsell said.
An example of that is when the North Lawndale Homeowners Association successfully pressured the city to renovate Douglass Branch Library in 2018. Neighbors 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 committed $2.15 million to rehabbing the Douglass Branch Library, which now has a recording studio, 3D-printers and an improved auditorium.
The 250 homes are only the first phase of the initiative, Townsell said. The longer-term goal is to build 1,000 affordable homes on the West Side and another 1,000 on the South Side, he said.
The TIF funds build on previous city support for the affordable housing project. The city sold 100 vacant lots in Lawndale for $1 to a partnership between Lawndale Christian, United Power and Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives to ensure the lots would be transformed into houses affordable for working families.
The developers worked with North Lawndale Homeowners Association and North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council to plan the homes and ensure that “these houses are built with affordability in mind,” said Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th).
“It is a culmination of a lot of hard work from a lot of people in the community. This is a community-built effort,” Scott said.
Project partners are committed to ensuring Lawndale-based contractors get priority for building the homes, and that longtime Lawndale residents are the first in line to purchase the homes when they are ready. Lawndale Christian Development Corporation is continuing to work with prospective buyers in the neighborhood to get them prepared for first-time homeownership.
“They’ve already lined up a cadre of homeowners as well as a cadre of folks who want to build and work in our communities,” Scott said. “I sincerely believe and know the commitment of [Lawndale Christian Development Corporation] of making sure people living in the community work on and live in these homes. “
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