A community wealth-building initiative is turning vacant properties on the West Side into opportunities for entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.
The project will attract entrepreneurs to Lawndale by offering them a place to do business along with perks like technical support, free subsidized rent, coaching and workforce development partnerships.
The effort to turn vacant buildings into neighborhood business hubs is led by the Steans Family Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the social and economic environment of Lawndale. The foundation is working with the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council to plan the project.
The project was awarded $2.58 million in Chicago Recovery Plan dollars through the city’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund grant program, which is aimed at spurring development on the South and West sides.
“This really is, hopefully, a catalytic moment,” said Patricia Ford, executive director of the Steans Family Foundation. “We are looking to build something that really rises up to meet the community.”
The Steans Family Foundation plans to develop multiple small business hubs from vacant buildings so the neighborhood will have multiple engines for creating jobs and opportunities for Black entrepreneurs to build wealth.
City funds will help rehab the first property at 3140 W. Ogden Ave., and renovations are expected to begin this year. Once completed, the building will house two businesses that have already been housed by the foundation.
“Every community needs basic services,” Ford said. “Our overall strategy is to expand in a significant way. So this is the first of many opportunities.”
The businesses at the buildings converted by the Steans Family Foundation will be provided with resources and services to ensure they can be successful and grow, Ford said. One perk the foundation is looking forward to offering is “free rent for a period of time for Black entrepreneurs … in exchange for job creation,” Ford said.
The facilities will also work with New Covenant Community Development Corporation to bring technical support and coaching to businesses, assisting them with things like marketing, product development and accessing the capital, investment and grants needed for the business to expand, Ford said.
“We know that Black and Brown entrepreneurs don’t always have the same access to capital and an opportunity that their white business counterparts do,” Ford said.
The foundation is also partnering with workforce groups like the North Lawndale Employment Network to bring job training and placement services to participating businesses, Ford said.
Bringing more businesses into the neighborhood was identified as a priority in the 2018 North Lawndale Quality-of-Life Plan, a blueprint created by local residents and organizations for improving issues like public safety, education and commerce. North Lawndale is “a business desert,” which has contributed to problems like unemployment, low wages and a lack of basic services like restaurants and grocery stores, Ford said.
“We all know [the] benefits from walking through neighborhoods that have lots of vitality and vibrancy, and we also know the subliminal effect of walking through neighborhoods that have a lot of abandoned and vacant buildings,” Ford said.