Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin did not mince words as he lobbied more than 100 Austin residents to support his Neighborhood Revitalization Act at a town hall meeting held at Home of Life Missionary Baptist Church, 4640 W. Madison St., on Feb. 4. 

If passed, the NRA would give homes to Chicago Police officers, Chicago Fire Department firefighters, Chicago-based paramedics or EMTs, and Chicago-based licensed teachers who live and work in certain neighborhoods — which include Austin, Englewood, Back of the Yards, Auburn Gresham and East and West Garfield Park — for at least five years.

Eligible candidates will have the opportunity to apply for a home through the CCNRA Authority, which will be responsible for rehabbing existing homes or constructing new ones on current vacant properties owned by the Cook County Land Bank and the City of Chicago.

“The time is over for talk, we have to get this done,” said Boykin, who stated every day that the NRA is delayed more people are being shot and killed. “Business as usual is unacceptable.”

He stated the presence of police, firefighters and other professionals would help transform those communities and give youth positive role models to aspire to become.

Boykin said the measure has the support of Rep. Danny Davis (7th), Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios, Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), Chicago Police Department 11th District Commander Kevin Johnson, among other officials. Both Davis and Johnson were in attendance at the town hall.

Some members of the audience, however, were not totally satisfied with the NRA as currently proposed. Among them were teachers, firefighters and police officers who wanted to see amendments that would ensure they would receive the full benefits offered to them.

For example, CPD Sergeant Daniel Allen, 11th Dist. CAPS officer, said the NRA should recognize officers who are transferred from their home district, or promoted, as still eligible for the program. 

Austin resident Carmelita Earls, a Chicago Fire Department captain, proposed an amendment within the NRA that would allow Austin employees to be assigned to fire houses near their homes. She said seniority within the department has played a role in where individuals are placed. Even with 26 years on the job, Earls said she doesn’t have seniority to work in her own community.

“The legislation should include a component such as a randomizer to set aside toward getting certain people in this area to serve the fire houses in this area,” said Earls.

Lifelong Austin resident Gayinga Washington, a teacher and team lead at By The Hand Club For Kids, 415 N. Laramie Ave., proposed the NRA be expanded to account for teachers who have earned degrees and not be solely limited to educators with licenses. She argued that many educators like herself, who already reside within the community, would view the legislation as a more motivation to stay where they are.

Boykin pledged he would consider all community suggestions throughout the legislative process, but he shot down the notion that the NRA may lead to gentrification. He said one of his goals is to work with state officials and Assessor Berrios to maintain current property values to ensure it’s affordable for current residents and future home owners.

“I think these suggestions about gentrification are a red herring to throw people off,” said Boykin.

A second town hall meeting is scheduled at Antioch Baptist Church, 415 W. Englewood Ave., on Feb. 18 at 10 a.m.