If you live on the West or South sides of town, the “buzz” word is gentrification. Translation for many West and Southsiders means, move out old residents and make room for young suburbanites. Young suburbanites are buying and rehabbing West and South side properties at a rapid pace.

This month’s Crisis Magazine (published by the NAACP) talks about “The Housing Game” and asks “Are African Americans Winning or Losing?” The article features four communities (Harlem; Washington D.C.; West Oakland, Ca.; and West Palm Beach, Fla.) referred to as “new urbanization.” Communities which once were in decline are now being rehabbed and revitalized. After the 1960s, the nation became more integrated and many blacks fled to the suburbs. Now whites and upper-middle class African Americans are moving back into urban neighborhoods, buying fancy new condos or renovating dilapidated gems the article states.

But not all young couples are suburbanites. Last Sunday, Lee and Aletra Wells showed off their beautifully rehabbed 3-story building on South Spaulding. All the local media came out and, like proud parents, Shorebank officials, Illinois Housing Development Authority, Congress Danny Davis and Sankofa’s Cherita Logan all beamed with joy as the Wells took the media on a tour of their beautifully rehabbed building.

Sunday’s event was held to announce Gov. Blagojevich’s $10 million Homeownership Initiative to Revitalize Homes on Chicago’s South and West sides. This pilot program showcased the Wells who had looked for a home they could afford in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood. Everything was either too expensive or needed costly renovations that they could not afford. Through Home Advantage more than 35 first-time homebuyers in Chicago will be able to use a new below-market interest rate program to buy and rehabilitate their first homes.

The Home Advantage mortgage rehab program, financed by the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) and administered by ShoreBank, was created in partnership with Cong. Davis; Sankofa, a non-profit community group based on Chicago’s West Side; and the Community Ventures Investment Corp. (CVIC) development company. Home Advantage is the first and only available IHDA program that rolls the purchase and renovation costs into one loan.

Cong. Davis said, “It’s a part of broad strategy to try and rebuild inner-city communities. Sometimes you can do things in a great big way, but you can’t always do things for people. You have to also be able to do things with people. And what we’ve really been for Mr. Wells is a facilitator in some sense and a creator in some sense. We have a strategy to rehabilitate as many buildings as we can. I’ve always felt we could salvage and save many of the structures. I actually like them better than I do the new ones. They’re more spacious, and the foundations are better, and if you can get them done, people can live [here] and not have to think of leaving and moving.

“What impresses me about it is Mr. Ray Trumball who did the sandblasting, the tuck pointing and all of that, which means that there are skilled tradesmen in our community. A lot of times it’s a matter of people being able to access them to know that they exist and know that they are here and know how to get in touch with them. I’m also impressed by the second young man who is only 24 years old. His name is Kenny Walker. He will be doing the same type of rehabbing as Wells.”

On hand to answer questions were several ShoreBank representatives, including from ShoreBank’s West Side Branch, which has been very instrumental in helping West Side homeowners as well as businesses, thanks to its president Michelle Collins.

Senior Vice President Jack Crane said, “In Chicago, the housing stock is older. but most of the properties need some kind of renovation. So often you can buy a property, you get a good price, put in minor or major rehab and you get paid back. The value will increase in the home. We’ve been doing that for many years, and that’s where we assist the homeowner. We also have an energy conservation program. Right now we have a grant program.

Brian Berg, vice President of marketing for Shorebank, explained how people can qualify for the program.

“Somebody will come out to the house and will do an evaluation on what’s the best way to reduce your heating bill and air-conditioning bills. They’ll tell you what kind of windows you should get, how much insulation, and things of that nature. To qualify, you simply have a minimum of $2,000 of energy conservation work for the home. In many cases it doesn’t add to the construction; it’s just being smart about energy.

The new owners of the Spaulding building, Lee Wells and his wife, Aletra, plan to move in around mid-July, Mrs. Wells said she can’t wait. Lee and Aletra have two children, a 4-year-old son and a 6-month-old daughter.