WOODLAWN — The nonprofit Preservation of Affordable Housing, residents and public officials have helped to revitalize portions of Woodlawn, creating a blueprint for equitable development in the neighborhood and beyond, a new report found.
The report, titled “Household and Community Change Within Chicago’s Woodlawn Neighborhood,” combines the results of three studies.
One looked into how Preservation of Affordable Housing’s developments, starting with the former Grove Parc Plaza Apartments, have affected low-income residents’ quality of life. Another reviewed changing conditions in the neighborhood at large, while a third examined financial investment into Woodlawn over time.
The studies found Woodlawn is on an “upswing,” spurred in part by a $30.5 million federal grant awarded in 2011 to boost the neighborhood’s housing, human services, local schools, safety and infrastructure.
Preservation of Affordable Housing, the city and the state have since parlayed that grant into more than $400 million worth of investment in the neighborhood, according to the report.
“Majority-Black, low-income and moderate-income neighborhoods typically do not experience investment” or quality-of-life improvements due to racism and other structural barriers, report co-author Amy Khare said at a panel discussion Thursday.
But in Woodlawn, where 82 percent of residents are Black, the “community-driven effort” to change the neighborhood’s trajectory has been impactful — and should receive national attention, Khare said.
However, the report also found “clear delineations” between investment in East Woodlawn — home to the future Obama Presidential Center and Apostolic Church of God’s proposed 18-acre “cultural” complex, among other projects — and West Woodlawn.
With Woodlawn rents rising 126 percent from 2000-2018 and skyrocketing home sale prices, there’s also an ongoing concern across the neighborhood over the potential displacement of low-income residents.
Woodlawn’s development “has been a wonderful thing for the community at large,” though it can be “frightening” for long-term residents and challenging to get new neighbors involved in existing planning efforts, Reach Within Ministries pastor Terrance Miller said.
Using the 2011 federal grant, Preservation of Affordable Housing has redeveloped the former Grove Parc site into a mixed-income community with 244 apartments and local businesses, stretching along Cottage Grove Avenue from 60th to 63rd streets.
Researchers “were unable to talk with residents of Grove Parc for this study, since we launched the study right when the pandemic hit and we were asked to not disrupt during a time people were in crisis,” Khare wrote in response to an attendee’s chat question Thursday.
Original residents are being surveyed as part of an evaluation of the 2011 grant, and evaluation results will be completed by 2024, Khare said.
Preservation of Affordable Housing also helped bring Jewel-Osco and the MetroSquash recreational center to 61st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, as well as a resource center for neighborhood residents.
The Grove Parc redevelopment and other projects have brought 1,000 housing units to the neighborhood over the last decade, according to the report. The new housing and amenities “helped to redefine blocks, districts and even the entire neighborhood,” Khare said.
Despite the positive impacts seen so far from the Woodlawn revitalization effort, more can be done, researchers and local leaders said Thursday.
Progress in the neighborhood has been made in a “patchwork,” with East Woodlawn receiving plenty of public and private investment, co-author April Jackson said.
Northwest Woodlawn is also stabilizing, with rising home values and increased availability of apartments, she said.
But Southwest Woodlawn “is experiencing stalls in reinvestment,” and close attention must be paid “to development pressures that could lead to eventual residential displacement” as the Obama Center is built in the neighborhood, Jackson said.
Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th), who lives next to a Preservation of Affordable Housing development on Maryland Avenue, praised the nonprofit’s care for its buildings on the former Grove Parc site in an interview with Block Club.
But the developer needs to step up its property management and communication with residents at its other Woodlawn properties, Taylor said.
“The off-sites are not as good as the sites on Cottage Grove,” Taylor said. “When I first moved next to the building [on Maryland Avenue], there were a lot of supports — tenant councils, cleanliness happened more often, there were check-ins with people in the community.
“I don’t feel like they do that anymore,” she said. “I know the pandemic is a part of that, but they have a responsibility to take care of all the buildings they own.”
After years of shoring up housing, workforce development “is going to be the next major step in the progress of Woodlawn,” Apostolic Church of God pastor Byron Brazier said.
“Housing is a big element, but who can afford to live is really based on how we prepare people for the future,” he said.
Brazier also called on leaders to prioritize developing the area around the King Drive Green Line station as they have the area around the Cottage Grove stop, and said Woodlawn and Washington Park should be “looked at collectively” in future planning efforts.
With the need for continued planning and development, researchers offered paths forward based on the results of the studies.
Residents “are asserting, insisting and demanding that their voices be heard” in the neighborhood’s revitalization, Khare said. They’ve contributed to the working group guiding the city as it implements the neighborhood’s housing protections and the 1Woodlawn master plan, among other efforts.
Developers and other outsiders looking to influence Woodlawn’s growth should “make room at the table for community members, but more importantly, seek to sit at the tables where those community members are already planning community initiatives,” Khare said.
The report also notes the needs for public and private funding for revitalization efforts, for Preservation of Affordable Housing to maintain its past development practices and existing partnerships, and for officials to prioritize policies that prevent displacement, among other recommendations.
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