Home rehab project could bring hope to Chicago neighborhoods


Samantha Conrad

Home rehab project could bring hope to Chicago neighborhoods

By Savannah Eadens

Recapturing a house on a block of vacant properties can give a community a sense of hope, said La Shone Kelly, housing counselor for Garfield Park Community Council. Garfield Park, along with two other Chicago neighborhoods, will receive city funds to perform this work. 

In a Sept. 13 press release, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the $6 million Chicago Neighborhood Rebuild Training pilot program. The program is expected to generate employment opportunities for 200 youth and ex-offenders who will rehab 50 vacant homes in Garfield Park, Humboldt Park and Englewood. 

The city will partner with local organizations to complete the home rehabilitation in three years and then sell them at affordable prices, according to the mayor’s press release. 

Emanuel enlisted the help of The Safer Foundation, a nonprofit that helps individuals with criminal records re-enter society, to connect with for the projects. Harry Alston, the group’s vice president of Strategic Planning and Development, said the organization will contact community members from neighborhoods listed in the rehabilitation program and provide them with proper rehab training. 

“[We] use employment opportunity and job creation as a means to break cycles of both poverty and recidivism,” Alston said. “In this case, we are trying to pilot some fairly unique skill building around creating craftsmen in the woodworking arena.” 

The city’s $2 million investment, consisting of funds generated for previous unused property tax rebates, will leverage an additional $4 million in private capital from institutions such as MB Financial, Rush University Medical Center and the Chicago Community Loan Fund for the program, according to the press release. 

Nicole Johnson, data and communications manager for Teamwork Englewood—a nonprofit community organization based in the South Side neighborhood—said the restored homes sold at affordable prices could increase home ownership for community members who have rented all their lives. 

“We want to make home ownership attractive to millennials, particularly those who are indigenous to the community,” Johnson said. 

Alston also said the project will have a positive impact on individuals with arrest records. 

“The impact we always seek to have is to give them a sense of personal agency about their ability to change the direction of their lives in spite of the collateral consequences they face by having a criminal record,” he said.

Despite the project’s intentions, 50 homes may not be enough, Kelly said. Garfield Park Community Council’s Micro Market Recovery Program conducted a recent survey that found at least 100 properties in West Garfield Park alone in need of repair. The employment and resources for the project should also come from within the affected neighborhoods, she added. 

Garfield Park is not alone in the large number of homes needing rehabilitation. For every block in Englewood, there is at least one home in need of repair, Johnson said. Where the renovated homes are located could affect how much impact the project has on the community, she added.

“[Fifty homes] is not enough but is it a good start? That’s what you have to answer,” Johnson said. “Is it strategically placed where this can get the ball rolling in various places, [in] concentrated areas—and then you can have more of a systemic change.” 

Kelly said that while Emanuel did not clearly define what “affordable” will mean, she hopes Emanuel will keep his promise to make sure the homes are sold back to the community affordably. 

“Psychologically, if you look at ugliness all the time, it starts to impact you,” she said. “Seeing something beautified and changed [says], ‘We’re worth investing into’ because when those buildings sit, it sends a message that you’re not worthy. We’re one Chicago, so if any part of Chicago is not flourishing, then it reflects on all of Chicago.”