‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: Hermosa

Hermosa on Chicago’s Northwest side is one of the city’s smaller community areas, sitting between Logan Square and Belmont-Cragin.

The community is more than 83% Hispanic-Latino, a mix of people mostly of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage.

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Hermosa sits in the 60639 ZIP code, which for the week ending July 11 has a 9.2 % COVID-19 positivity rate, including part of the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood to the west. To compare, citywide, the rate is 5.3%. 

But for this area, those numbers are down significantly from mid-April and early May. 

With that, local businesses are starting to see customers return a few weeks into phase four of the state’s reopening plan. 

One of them is Ponce Restaurant on Fullerton Avenue, which has been in Hermosa for 22 years. Ponce was able to remain open during the shelter-in-place order, but owners say while business is steady, the income isn't nearly the same for the restaurant or the staff. Their dining room used to fit 75 people, but can now only serve 15. 

“We have some of the employees alternate, so they can also have some kind of income,” said Marisel Melendez, whose mother started the restaurant. “So we work with the employees as well, because half of them don’t have their full-time jobs.” 

Video: Our full interview with State Rep. Will Guzzardi.

Right next door to Ponce is JBS Furniture, where business has been steady as of late. Operations manager Alejandro Salgado says they were able to fulfill phone and online orders during the stay-at-home order, and since entering phases three and four, business is back up to about 75% of what it was pre-pandemic. But he says the biggest problem the store has run into is the supply chain. 

“What used to take 10 days to get here is now taking 21 days, maybe a month and a half,” Salgado says. “Our warehouse is almost empty, so once stuff gets here, it goes out right away.” 

Hermosa is a crossroads of four of Chicago’s wards, which means four aldermen represent the neighborhood in Chicago’s City Council. One is 31st Ward Ald. Felix Cardona. 

Cardona says residents have been struggling economically, and that several businesses have not been able to survive this pandemic, and will not reopen.

One that will is the neighborhood’s Wal-Mart. It’s been shuttered for weeks since the protests and unrest touched off by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

Cardona says he was in his office when the Sprint store next door and that Wal-Mart were hit with theft and property damage. 

“Right now, they’re fixing it to get it back open as fast as they can,” Cardona says. 

The hope is that the Wal-Mart will reopen by the end of July. 

Video: Our full interview with Rupert Medina, of the Hermosa Neighborhood Association.

Another concern in Hermosa is housing insecurity. 

A lot of renters in the neighborhood are struggling to pay rent to landlords because they've lost their jobs -- and of course, that’s led to plenty of landlords then concerned about making mortgage payments. 

The Spanish Coalition for Housing works to help renters and owners access resources like energy assistance, homebuyer education and foreclosure prevention. The group’s executive director Joseph Lopez says the need for that support in this community has increased drastically. 

“We’ve seen a surge in demand in the past, I would say, eight weeks,” he said. “Pre-Covid, we’ve only serviced about 100 households across the city, with our emergency mortgage rental assistance. Within this Covid environment, we’ve surged to over 450 families that we supported through that program, many of them here in the Hermosa community.” 

It's a concern shared by State Rep. Will Guzzardi, who represents part of the neighborhood in Springfield. 

He’s calling for Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker to extend the state’s moratorium on evictions, which is set to expire at the end of July. 

“This community has a lot of what you might call non-traditional homelessness, where there are families that are double and tripled up into a single-family building,” Guzzardi said. “So getting people safely housed is really important, but in particular around this public health crisis.”  

The Chicago City Council passed a resolution last month extended the moratorium in the city 60 days beyond the state’s deadline. 

And one group that’s been organizing mutual aid relief in the community is the Hermosa Neighborhood Association. 

President Rupert Medina says they’ve put together food and mask drives, and are also setting up a pop-up testing site later this month. 

Medina says one big struggle in the neighborhood has been to get people to wear masks in public and to practice safe social distancing. 

“How do we enforce this? We don’t know. We have some of the highest cases occurring right here in Hermosa,” he said. “We’re never going to take care of this unless we all follow the guidelines set forward by the CDC.”

Community Reporting Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.

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