Homeowners in portions of most of the south half of West Garfield Park can now benefit from a program that’s been available to residents of nearby sections of East Garfield Park and North Lawndale for years.

Late last year, the City Council approved the expansion of the Midwest Tax Increment Financing District. As the result, residents of West Garfield Park will, for the first time, benefit from the Tax Increment Finance Neighborhood Improvement Program (or TIF-NIP).

Home owners will be able to apply for TIF funding to fix up their homes. Although the program mostly funds exterior repairs, it can be used for interior repairs if there is life-threatening damage. Homeowners have until Jan. 17, 2017 to apply.

To help spread the word, aldermen of those wards that fall within the Midwest TIF organized community meetings. Despite interest in the program, there was also some apprehension. One resident in particular spoke out against the organization that runs the program, alleging that homes that get inspected wind up in housing court.

When a TIF is created, the amount of tax revenue that gets collected from it is frozen. If the taxes go up, the extra revenue instead goes into a TIF fund. This funding is then meant to be used to encourage development.

The Midwest TIF was originally created in 2000 and it included significant portions of East Garfield Park and North Lawndale. In response to a request from Mt. Sinai Hospital, the city moved the expanded TIF to include most of the lots between Madison Avenue, Hamlin Boulevard, Laramie Avenue and the Eisenhower Expressway. The City Council gave its final approval on Dec. 9, 2015.

The TIF-NIP program has been around since 1999 and is run by the Chicago Department of Planning and Development and the Neighborhood Housing Services, a Wicker Park-based nonprofit organization that works to help Chicagoans buy, maintain and keep their homes. There are currently 25 TIFs throughout Chicago that have the program.

According to Darris Shaw, NHS’ Director of Construction Services, and Destiny Edmonds, the organization’s loan specialist, the grants are available to owners of single-family and multi-unit homes, so long as they live in the building and the building is located within the Midwest TIF. 

Homeowners must be able to show proof of household income and they must have property insurance. Any debt the applicant owes to the City of Chicago must be paid off before they get the grant. If the building ever got a grant through the program, it can’t get another one — not even if the building had since changed owners.

The grants come in multiple levels. There is the basic grant, which can be no more than $12,500 for a single-family home, no more than 417,500 for a 2-flat, no more than $20,000 for a three-flat and no more than $22,500 for a four-flat. Applicants can also get extra money if they are looking to insulate the building and install energy-efficient boilers or furnaces, which can increase the grant up to $16,850 for single-family homes, up to $22,400 for two-flats, up to $25,500 for three-flats and up to $30,500 for four-flats.

For the most part, the grants can only be used for exterior repairs. Up to 30 percent of the grant can be used for interior repairs if the building conditions deteriorated to the point where it’s not livable. And even then, the owner must be able to show that they can cover whatever costs the grant doesn’t cover out of their own pocket or by getting a loan. Either way, NHS inspects the house before it issues a grant.

Shaw emphasized that the grant isn’t a blank check.

“We will not take a small porch and build a nice party deck,” he said. “If you have a porch that’s not up to code, we’ll get it rebuilt so it’s up to code.”

Shaw also explained that, when they get the grant, home owners must use handymen who are licensed by the City of Chicago and carry liability insurance.  Edmonds emphasized that all applicants will be considered.

“It’s not first-come, first-serve,” she said. “We pay until we get zero [in TIF-NIP funding].”

If the program runs out of TIF funds and there are still eligible applicants, they would be put on a waiting list until the funds become available. The order in which they get funds will be decided by lottery.

Applications must be either turned in or faxed to any of NHS offices. The closest office to West Garfield Park is located on the fourth floor of Homan Square’s Nichols Tower, 906 S. Homan. The application must be submitted by Jan. 20, no later than 5:00 p.m.