City, Bronzeville group cooperating on affordable housing

A South Side non-profit may be one step closer to its goal of increasing middle-income homeownership in Bronzeville.

City officials have confirmed they are in discussions with Housing Bronzeville about selling the group an unspecified number of city-owned vacant lots for $1 each. Members of Housing Bronzeville met with city officials last week to begin the application process.

"We are talking to them about providing lots for $1 for affordable housing,” says Molly Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Community Development. “They just have to demonstrate the capacity and ability to develop these houses. And they’re working with city officials to do this.”

City officials say the acquisition process occurs in phases and that Housing Bronzeville is in the early stages. The group plans to work with a developer to build affordable homes ranging in capacity for area residents.

Before moving forward, City Hall requires that the group name a developer, demonstrate financial capacity and identify the lots they would like to develop.  

Housing Bronzeville, a spin-off of  the Lugenia Burns Hope Center, a leadership training agency, says it expects to name a developer in the next few weeks.

Housing Bronzeville activist Kenneth Williams, who attended the meeting, said he felt “pretty good” about the initial discussions.  “The cooperation of everyone including the City is making this a tangible thing.”

The March 5 meeting follows five years of concerted efforts by the organization to fight gentrification and increase middle-income homeownership in the historic neighborhood. The  group sponsored an advisory referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot that called for 26 percent of city-owned vacant lots in the neighborhood to be set aside for middle-income ownership. The referendum passed with 87.8 percent of the vote, but garnered little aldermanic support.

Ald. Pat Dowell (D-3), whose ward includes much of Bronzeville, said she has yet to see a viable plan from the group.

“I agree with the concept of creating affordable home ownership,” she says. “Show me you have the capacity to build it in a design that will fit in the character of the community and I’m all for it.”

Cheryl Spivey-Perry, executive director of the Lugenia Hope Burns Center, says the group is working with Chicago-based architect Peter Landon to finalize plans for the homes. The homes, including single- and multi-family units, will use green technology. 

At this point, the designated lots for the homes have yet to be identified. Still, Spivey-Perry says she’s encouraged by the recent progress.

So is Williams, a 48-year-old renter whose dream is to purchase a home in the neighborhood where he raised his four children.

“This is what I’ve been trying to do for the last four years,” he says. “This gives me and others like me an opportunity to buy a home here without being priced out.”

Housing Bronzeville is one of several South Side organizations looking to leverage their proximity to the would-be Olympic Village. The group believes their efforts, which included several meetings in December with representatives from the Chicago 2016 bid committee and a tour of the historic neighborhood, helped initiate more fruitful talks with City Hall.

“This is the very first time there’s really been any positive feedback,” says Spivey-Perry. “The Chicago Olympic Committee helped us a lot by pointing us in the right direction.”

But City officials say programs like “New Homes for Chicago,” which pledges city-owned lots as a financial incentive to help expand housing affordability for middle-income buyers, have been available to community groups for 10 years.

“This is nothing new; “says Sullivan, who cited Lawndale Christian Development Corporation as one group which benefited from such a program. “Our department has worked for years to increase affordable houses in neighborhoods.”