After losing several key grants, a community coalition that a decade ago led the fight to save the Green Line el-and more recently served as a watchdog for school construction and public works projects-ceased operations in February.

Last Thursday, friends and staff of the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group got together to say their final goodbyes in true grassroots spirit-with an after-work potluck at the Garfield Park Conservatory.

In recent years, NCBG was perhaps best known for monitoring the city’s use of tax increment financing (TIF) funds and encouraging community groups to demand input into how such funds were spent.

In TIF districts, property taxes are frozen for a period of years at a certain level and the extra dollars go into a fund, broadly designated for new development and infrastructure improvements in that district rather than going directly into the coffers of schools, libraries, parks and other taxing bodies.

The NCBG was also known for monitoring spending on projects like Millennium Park, which was initially estimated to cost $150 million but ended up costing closer to $475 million. NCBG officials often pressed for more public infrastructure spending in the city’s outlying neighborhooods, arguing that too much city spending was concentrated in the Loop.

The NCBG had direct public support of $383,918 in 2004, the last year for which IRS 990 forms for the organization are available. In 2003, gifts, grants, and contributions totalled $757,535, and in 2002, $381,195.

According to a Jan. 30 letter from NCBG President Mildred Wiley and Executive Director Jackie Leavy, posted on the NCBG’s website, “For a long time, NCBG has struggled financially in the face of declining revenues. Since 2003, we’ve had to downsize from 10 staff to two. … Major foundations that once supported NCBG changed their grantmaking priorities and stopped funding NCBG altogether.”

Wiley says the organization took a big hit when the Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation changed the way it targeted funding. In 2002, the foundation partnered with the Chicago offices of the non-profit Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) to focus specifically on 16 Chicago neighborhoods.

According to Wiley, NCBG and other groups that had a broader geographic focus were casualties of that change in grantmaking.

Wiley’s group also suffered from the loss of a major grant from the Joyce Foundation.

“For us, it was a tidal wave of funding shifts,” she said. “Our organization did not have enough discretionary funds to keep operations going.”

Attending to unemployed blacks

The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus used a Monday hearing into the state’s unemployment rate to highlight the high number of jobless blacks in Illinois.

The caucus convened the hearing, which took place at the Thompson Center downtown, to draw attention to the 20- to 30-percent unemployment rate within largely black communities in the state, including Austin.

Since January, the state has added more than 166,000 jobs, more than any other state in the Midwest during that time, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. But among blacks, the unemployment rate averages about 12 percent annually, more than double that of whites, according to figures released by the Chicago Urban League. The black unemployment rate ranges between 18 and 33 percent in Chicago communities that include Austin and North Lawndale. Officials from the Urban League and commerce department took part in Monday’s hearing.

Pair busted with
catalytic converters

Oak Park police charged a Maywood man and his 19-year-old son with theft after they discovered a reciprocating saw and an allegedly stolen catalytic converter in the man’s car trunk.

Around 4:30 a.m. on March 14, police pulled over a car in the 900 block of Harrison driven by Samuel Stepter Sr., 45 of Maywood. After Stepter reportedly could provide no valid driver’s license, police arrested him and searched the car. They found a battery-operated saw in the trunk, and two catalytic converters, one of which had just been stolen from a 1996 Olds Ciera in the 800 block of South Euclid Avenue. Stepter and his son, Samuel Stepter Jr., were both charged with theft.

Converters have been lifted from numerous cars on the West Side within the last year.

Compiled by Terry Dean, Bill Dwyer and Laura Putre