Chicago’s cut from President Obama’s massive economic stimulus package totals $1 billion, but a portion of that will make its way to the Austin community in several proposed infrastructure projects.
Streets like Chicago, Pulaski, Division, Narragansett and Ogden will get major makeovers costing $15.6 million – generating jobs and contracts. But Ald. Emma Mitt contends the West Side will be reaching for table scraps unless residents, businesses and community leaders set an agenda for what is needed for their communities.
“We need to come together collectively to determine what it is that we’re looking to work on … not just a plan for this money, but a plan for a future to come,” she said.
Mitts spoke at a March 14 forum, sponsored by Voices of Community Ministerial Association and the Westside Branch NAACP, about how Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package will impact the West Side.
The city’s portion includes funds for homeless prevention, education, rail improvements, green jobs and tax credits for affordable rental housing. While the package has several funding initiatives, Mitts noted the money has to be spent within 18 months and communities have three months to identify projects.
“Whether we are talking about job training, construction job training or … talking about an educational piece…we have to put a program in place so we can get the monies here in our community,” Mitts said. “We can’t sit back and take it for granted [because] it will happen with or without us.”
However, Voices’ Operations Vice President Phyllis Logan said a learning curve exists when it comes to the economic stimulus package. Her group along with the West Side leaders hopes to overcome that curve with a series of town hall meetings and workshops.
“President Obama has put a lot of money out there and no one has come to our community to share it with us,” Logan said.
Logan contends there is a breakdown in communication since little to no information is getting out about where, how and when to apply for contracts. The biggest concern, she added, is ensuring that residents get their fair share of jobs and contracts instead of the usual suspects.
“Give us our share,” she said. “Let us be the stakeholders of our share for our community, not outsiders coming in dictating how the dollars will be spread across in little amounts.”
With foreclosures reaching an all-time high, state Rep. LaShawn Ford is banking on the neighborhood stabilization program to provide relief from community suffering from a glut of foreclosed homes. Austin, he noted, has the highest number of foreclosures in the city with nearly 1,000. In 2008, Cook County had more than 43,000 foreclosed homes.
Under the program, Ford said that the state received $55 million to help developers, community organizations or residents buy up foreclosed properties to create more affordable housing. The effort, Ford added, would help stabilize communities hit hard by the foreclosure crisis.
The Westside Ministers Coalition recently formed a community development corporation to take advantage of the program. Otis Monroe, the coalition’s housing committee co-chair, explained that foreclosed homes work against the objectives in Obama’s economic recovery plan.
The plan aims to promote job creation and economic reinvestment. But foreclosures, Monroe said, breed crime, poor investments and deplete potential tax base. For West Side communities to benefit from any economic opportunities, people must identify reinvestment activities and advocate around those issues.
“It becomes incumbent upon communities, its organizations and its leaders to partner where they can to engage economic recovery that is self-directed … [and] not wait for industries to come to us,” said Monroe, founder of the Monroe Foundation. “We have to be the catalyst for that stimulus change in our community.”