The proposal to build 100 new single-family homes on the city-owned land in North Lawndale has encountered questions about just how affordable those houses are to the residents who are already there.

Lawndale Christian Development Corporation (LCDC), 3843 W. Ogden Ave., has teamed up with Pullman-based Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives to build 250 homes in North Lawndale. 

As part of that goal, they are trying to buy 100 city-owned lots scattered throughout the area between Roosevelt Road, Christiana Avenue, Cermak Road and Albany Avenue. Under the City Lots for Working Families (CL4WF) program, they would be able to buy each lot for $1 and use private funding to build the homes, selling them for $250,000. 

The sale has to be approved by several entities, including the Chicago Community Development Commission. During the June 8 meeting, Commissioner Gwendolyn Butler repeatedly asked whether the existing residents would be able to afford those homes. 

The developers responded that they plan to use subsidies to make the homes affordable to residents while also acknowledging that they are looking to bring in homebuyers from outside the community who won’t need the subsidies. 

The land sale will still need to be approved by the Chicago City Council. According to the presentation to the development commission, the city hasn’t settled on a date for when it will be introduced to the City Council. 

The Lawndale Christian Development Corporation is an affordable housing development company launched in 1987 by the Lawndale Christian Community Church. Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives  was founded in 2010 to encourage economic development in “low-to-moderate income neighborhoods” by developing affordable housing and grocery stores, and lending money to local entrepreneurs. 

The 100 city lots are located on portions of Kedzie Avenue, Sawyer Avenue, Albany Avenue, 15th Place, 15th Street and Troy Street, as well as at 2433 S. Christiana Ave., 3122 W. 16th St., 3146 W. 16th St. and 3150 W. 19th St. 

According to the presentation to the commission, the developers are financing the project through a $21 million loan from the United Power for Action and Justice’s Reclaiming Communities Fund, which gets money from “banks, foundations and high net worth individuals.” The developers have also secured $3 million in subsidies from the state. Most of the money – around $21.9 million – would go toward construction. 

CL4WF requires all homes built on the property to be affordable to residents earning at least 120 percent of the Area Median Income for the Chicagoland region, which is currently between $85,560 and $99,820. 

But according to the American Community Survey roughly 85 percent of households in North Lawndale earn incomes of less than $75,000. Roughly 74 percent of North Lawndale households make less than $50,000. 

Ald. Michael Scott (24th) whose ward includes most of North Lawndale west of California Avenue, told the commission that he supports the project as part of his broader push to bring quality affordable housing to the community. Those homes would benefit existing residents and encourage residents who may have left the community to come back. 

“We [want to] make sure that the individuals who have been here, who are indigenous to this community have affordable, quality homes,” Scott said. “In a community that has lost population over the last 60 to 70 years, it kind of helps us bring people to our community in a quality, dignified way.”

Butler pressed the developers on whether an average North Lawndale resident would be able to afford the homes. 

Ricard Townsell, LCDC’s executive director, replied that they would use the state subsidies, as well as funding from the Illinois Housing Development Authority and private banks such as J.P. Morgan Chase to provide subsidies to make the costs affordable to an average North Lawndale resident. 

The lower-income homebuyers would also get credit counseling through LCDC. Townsell noted, however, that they would also be looking for homebuyers who earn more.

“We, think on the bottom end, [we will have homebuyers with] combined family income of about $50,000, and then on the top end, we’re trying to find people who don’t need any subsidy,” he said.

Scott said one of his goals is to bring people of various income levels to North Lawndale.

“We’re grossly underpopulated, so what this aims to do is not only to help folks who are there, but attract residents who would not be there, who would maybe be on the opposite end of that spectrum,” he said. 

Butler pressed Scott on what he would do “to ensure that those who are living in the area can participate.” He responded that, when bringing the projects before the commission, “the first folks that I think about are folks who are indigenous to this community.” 

“My grandparents got to Lawndale about 85 years ago and took root,  and were not able to afford [to buy a home] in this community their entire lives,” Scott said. “I want to make sure that the [generational] wealth is passed down to folks, so they don’t have to jettison this community anymore, because we have quality, affordable housing that they can live in and pass it down to their children.”

Commissioner Shirley Newsome wondered how many local jobs the development would create. Under CL4WH, the developers will not need to follow the minority and local hiring requirements that usually come with any development involving city-owned land.

Townsell replied that they would be “largely [using] local African-American and Latino contractors.” The developers would also team up with the North Lawndale Employment Network to hire local residents.

Townsell that they will not know how many construction jobs the development will create until the land sale is complete.

Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...