Organization helps low-income residents keep their homes

Four years ago, Brian White walked through Rogers Park and saw it changing. Developers, riding a wave of rising property values, were converting rental apartments into condominiums for sale. Longtime tenants, unable to buy their homes outright, left the community.

"It wasn't just some renter here and there who was being displaced," White says. "It was whole neighborhoods."

So he teamed with colleagues in the Chicago housing industry and started the Lakeside Community Development Corp. The nonprofit, which advocates for affordable housing in the Rogers Park and West Ridge neighborhoods, celebrates its fourth anniversary today.

Since 2005, the organization has worked with groups along the housing spectrum — tenants, landlords, developers, condominium associations and policymakers — to help Chicago residents keep their homes.

At times, that means lobbying for tighter regulation of real-estate practices such as condo conversions — advocacy that has earned its critics. In other moments, it means helping a teary-eyed homeowner fight foreclosure.

In the case of Kimberly Perez-Campos, Lakeside meant empowerment.

In 2006, Perez-Campos says, her building was in disrepair. Years earlier, Habitat for Humanity had built its residents a brand-new community, but the organization's volunteers left behind a huge responsibility: running a condo association.

After several residents stepped down from the board, Perez-Campos found herself as its newly appointed treasurer, inexperienced in association issues and intimidated by the task of managing about a dozen families' homes.

"It was scary," she says. "It's one thing to be responsible for your own paycheck, and your own money, but now I was responsible for other people's. I was dealing with people who weren't paying and who had lost their jobs. It was really tough."

Perez-Campos joined a Lakeside program that helps members of condo associations know their rights and responsibilities. It was a crash course in running a community, but she says it has made a vast difference in the way she handles the association's affairs.

Now, she says, some tenants who could not pay their association fees are on payment plans. Other board members are learning more about running the association. Records are better organized and more accessible to residents.

"I wish there were some law that said that in order to run an association, you need to take this training," Perez-Campos says.

Other members of the community are less enthusiastic about Lakeside's work.

Marty Max, president of the Rogers Park Builders Group, says he respects the organization and its work on behalf of low-income residents. But he takes issue with some of White's claims that developers force them out of the area.

"People are not being pushed out," Max says. "There's plenty of affordable housing in Rogers Park."

When rents rise, he says, it is not always because property owners are greedy. Often, housing prices reflect market forces and growing expenses.

"We have the high cost of energy, the high cost of improvements, the high cost of water," Max says. "When all of those things go up, the only way that we continue to get income is to raise the rent."

Further, he says, the the condominium conversions that angered White were beneficial for the community.

"When you have ownership, I think people take better care of their neighborhoods," Max says. "Not only are they living there, but they have a vested economic concern."

White agrees that home ownership is an important ideal, but he says it is not possible for everyone.

"We would love it if we could help people who are renting become owners and stay in the neighborhood without going someplace else," he says. "For a lot of people, that's not going to happen. We think the market has plenty of opportunities for everybody to make money and to still provide for some affordability."

Staff Writer Adrian G. Uribarri can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 12, or adrian at chitowndailynews dot org.