CHICAGO — Many know the violent repute of parts of this city, the shootings, gangs, forgotten main streets and residential blocks plagued with boarded-up houses and apartment buildings.
Chicago Lawn on the city’ South Side was once all that; its streets were littered with abandoned homes, especially after the 2008 mortgage crisis took hold. “In some blocks, it looked like a war zone,” said the Rev. Anthony Pizzo, then a priest at St. Rita of Cascia Catholic church, a rare
But then, a feisty core of residents banded together to save this place.
They are doing so with an unexpected mix of people in an often-segregated city, with
“I told myself when I get there, I’m going to be running, moving forward,” said Smith, who came to Chicago Lawn in 2006 in search of a second chance and who helped rebuild a home that is the first he and his wife, Mary, have ever owned. Many others are doing the same, moving into rehabbed bungalows and apartments.
And sparking nothing short of a Chicago Lawn renaissance.
Decades earlier, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. marched into what was then an ethnic-white
The racial makeup of the
But because of language barriers or confusion over loan terms, such as adjustable rates, many were perched precariously on the edge of the housing bubble when it burst in 2008. Some with lower credit scores also had received subprime loans with high interest rates.
Pizzo joined organizers from a
Eventually, he got his general contractor’s license and became a construction mentor to others like him, just as the community was coming together for the next phase — rebuilding the
By 2012, there were at least 665 abandoned homes and apartment buildings in Chicago Lawn, counted by staff and volunteers at SWOP. They called upon outside supporters such as United Power, a large coalition of Chicago
They would, they decided, raise funds and buy up corner properties to spark redevelopment. They would, as they put it, “reclaim” the
Lisa Madigan, then Illinois attorney general, added $3 million from funds that Illinois, other states and the federal government received from five of the nation’s largest banks accused of fraudulent foreclosure-processing tactics in Chicago and elsewhere.
Then Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn pledged $4 million more and tax credits, giving the
The group began with a 20-block area in Chicago Lawn, among the hardest hit with 93 vacant buildings. The first project — a 13-unit brick apartment building — was finished in 2016.
Jamillah Rashad, now 36, and her two children were among the first to move into one of the apartments in a
“I never sat still enough to feel like I existed in a place long enough,” said Rashad, who works in early childhood education.
By last year, all but eight of the original 93 properties in that first target area had been rehabbed — some by SWOP, some by IMAN and others by private developers. Of the original 665 vacant homes and apartment buildings, more than 300 are now filled, with more to come. Police data also shows that violent and property crimes in Chicago Lawn have dropped about 45
That success prompted Illinois lawmakers this summer to approve an additional $12 million for more rehabs — and another $3 million to bring this model to North Lawndale, a West Side
The next major goal is to rebuild “1,000 homes on the South Side and 1,000 homes on the West Side,” said Nick Brunick, an attorney and leader with United Power. As he sees it, this successful formula — also being used in places such as New York City — could help struggling
Hasan Smith sees his contributions as his “chance to give back to the community that I once destroyed.” He and his wife moved into their new home this fall.
Martha Irvine, an AP national writer and visual journalist, can be reached at email@example.com or at http://twitter.com/irvineap
Martha Irvine, The Associated Press