Inherent l3c, a Chicago company that seeks to create quality family homes and long-term construction jobs in some of Chicago’s most disinvested communities, is trying to build 21 single-family homes on 20 blocks around West Humboldt Park’s Laura S. Ward Elementary School, 646 N. Lawndale Ave.

They are not the first developers to use the City Lots for Working Families program to buy city-owned land on the West Side for $1 a lot in return for keeping 75% of the homes they build on that land affordable to residents earning 120% of the average Area Median Income for the Chicagoland area.

Nor are they the first developers to use modular construction on the West Side. But they are the first developers to have modular homes built in Austin with a workforce drawn from across the South and West sides — and they’ve gone further than others to try to create extensive support for new owners.

Inherent founder Tim Swanson said that their goal isn’t just to bring quality housing to communities, but to help homeowners keep their homes amid a rising tide of gentrification. Their long-term goal is to build similar projects in other communities that haven’t seen much new housing, including East Garfield Park, North Lawndale and Austin, he said.

The land sale cleared the Chicago Community Development Commission on July 12. It is expected to go before the Chicago Plan Commission in September and is expected to go before the full Chicago City Council for final approval in either in September or October. Swanson said that they plan to have all the houses in place by next spring, with some houses potentially ready to go as early as this winter.

According to the fact sheet provided by the company, each house is a two-story, 1,445-square-foot building with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. While the buildings don’t include garages, the design calls for two parking spaces per lot. Each house will also come with several features designed to optimize energy efficiency, as well as systems that monitor energy usage, water and electricity. Swanson said the regular monitoring will help catch some mechanical issues early, which means quicker and less expensive repairs.

Swanson explained that, with their modular homes, each floor is built indoors. Workers then prepare the foundation. The houses are brought in and the two floors are stacked on top of them. After that, they only have to do some relatively minor work to make the homes fully functional.

“It takes just about two weeks to get the site ready for the house to be put in on it, a day to put the house on the site and a few more weeks to finish that,” Swanson said. “That means we can drop a lot of houses.”

The modular approach, he said, means that they can do much of the construction work within the span of 10 weeks, without worrying about weather and cold temperatures that affect traditional construction sites. It also means that workers won’t have days, even weeks, of downtime.

The component floors are being built in a rented space in Will Group’s K-Town Business Centre, a 60,000-square-foot warehouse at 4647 W Polk St. Swanson said that they wanted to rent there, because they support Will Group’s efforts to provide job opportunities and support local businesses.

He said that Inherent works with several West Side area workforce development organizations, including Chicago Women in Trades, Revolution Workshop and CARA Chicago. Among the current 15 employees, one is from the Near West Side, two are from South Austin and one is from West Garfield Park. Most of the remaining workers also come from minority communities such as Bronzeville and Englewood.

Hiring locally, Swanson said, is an important part of his company’s mission.

“We want to bring local jobs and build local houses and keep the dollars locally,” he said. “We don’t want to create temporary construction jobs for the West Side. We want to create trade careers for the West Side.”

Swanson said that their approach is to work with area community organizations to reach out to the community and attract potential home buyers.

For West Humboldt Park, they are working with the Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) of Chicago’s West Side office, 3601 W. Chicago Ave. All the prospective home buyers will take part in NHS programs that prepare first-time homebuyers for the intricacies of homeownership and mortgages.

Swanson said that the studies Inherent looked at suggest that the first five years are pivotal to long-term homeownership, which is why they offer a five-year limited warranty on the home, as well as five-year life insurance and disability insurance.

“Our focus is to sort of change lives and invest in individuals and families and their communities,” he said. “We also know that, by taking the approach like this, you can get ahead of gentrifying pressures, because you can stabilize housing.”

According to the fact sheet presented during the July 12 meeting, Inherent is using over $1.8 million of its own funding and over $5.5 million borrowed from the Chicago Community Loan Fund.

Swanson said that he incorporated Inherent as a low-profit limited liability corporation, so that while they do try to make money, large profits aren’t their goal. He also said that homebuyers will be able to take advantage of local and federal down payment and mortgage assistance programs to make the homes more affordable.

During the July 12 commission meeting, Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), whose ward includes the area where the lots are scattered, expressed support for the project, describing it as a bulwark against displacement caused by gentrification.

“These lots have been vacant for over 30 years, maybe more,” he said. “We do need the housing, and the affordable price is very important to sustaining affordability, because a lot of folks are [only] building market-rate housing over there. If we don’t put affordable housing over there, none of the people who lived in the community for a long time would be able to live there.”

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...