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Chicagoans get to stay in their gentifying Westside neighborhood

Submitted  on Fri, 04/20/2007 – 18:23.
Story by Jamie Morgan
Tabitha Escobar Perez didn’t think she could afford a home in Chicago. Living in East Humboldt Park, she’s seen gentrification and rising real estate prices push aside her dreams of home ownership before.

When Perez was married, she and her husband made about $42,000 – enough to get by but not enough to move to a bigger space.

“With that money, we could not afford to live in our neighborhood,” said Perez. “We ended up putting it on the back burner until we could figure it out.”

Now that she’s a single mother with an 11-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, thoughts of moving out of her city apartment to an affordable suburb home has crossed her mind, though she finds the notion unappealing.

“My whole family is here,” said Perez. “My church is here, and this is where my children are comfortable. This is where their father is.”

Fears of displacement are an issue for Perez and other long-time residents of East and West Humboldt.

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. of the 27th Ward and the West Humboldt Park Family and Community Development Council have sought ways to continue building up the Westside area while assuring affordable shelter for current residents.

“There was a concern expressed by residents that the community was becoming increasingly expensive to live in,” said Bill Howard, executive director of West Humboldt Park Family and Community Development Council. “There was worry about whether or not existing residents and their children would be able to live here in the future.”

The First Community Land Trust of Chicago (1stCLTChi) is the most recent project adopted by leaders in the ward to help handle the delicate balance between gentrification and affordable housing.

Unlike other land trusts, this program is limited to low-income residents earning less than 50 to 60 percent of the Chicago median income – about $30,000 – who want to own a home.

The land trust buys vacant city-owned lots for $1 then lease the land to low-income buyers for about $25 a month.

The buyers are responsible for building their house on the land. The Edwards Victor Rehab construction company has agreed to build the first 10 1,500-square-foot, 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom houses.

The trust is also working with the city and the state to get subsidies that would lower the costs of building the homes, thus lowering mortgage loans for buyers.

The last step for the land trust is winning approval from the Chicago City Council, then the building may begin. Construction of seven houses on the 400 block of Hamlin Avenue and three houses on the 400 block of Avers Avenue could start any day now, Howard said.

The alderman, Howard said, has agreed to set aside another 20 city-owned lots for this project. The land, permanently owned by the city, will be leased for 99 years and is renewable.

Steps have been taken to ensure no one can flip the homes.

“In other existing programs you can be a low-income homeowner, and then you sell it at market value, and it just skyrockets to a price that’s unaffordable,” says Howard.

The First Community Land Trust of Chicago has a stipulation that caps how much a homeowner can profit. The house must be sold for what the owner paid plus up to 1 percent of the increase on the value of the house.

“It’s all low-income,” says Howard. “And unlike existing or conventional low-income housing projects, this is innovative because these homes would be targeted on low-income people forever.”

The Spanish Coalition for Housing is responsible for providing home counseling for all the potential homeowners. There are a dozen families currently going through counseling, and three of them – including the Perez family – are ready to go.

Teresa Lambarry, program manager for the coalition’s homeownership center, says its task was to educate buyers about owning a home.

“A lot of our buyers that are at this stage and going into these special programs like First Community Land Trust of Chicago, had never thought that the dream of homeownership was available to them,” she said.

“It’s very important to make sure that they don’t go into the purchase of a home with the mentality that they’re not responsible for things that now as a homeowner they will be responsible for.”

Perez says she’s nervous about owning her own home – taking care of “house stuff like gutters” is new to her. But she’s relieved she doesn’t have to leave her neighborhood.

“I don’t have to move to a suburb. It’s somewhere where I can get to my church in 10 minutes,” Perez said. “It works for me.”

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ald. walter burnett the first community land trust of chicago west humboldt park west humboldt park development council

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