‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: Belmont Cragin

In May, Belmont Cragin on the city’s Northwest Side was a Chicago epicenter for COVID-19, with nearly 2,000 cases in its major ZIP code.

State data shows that now, the 60639 ZIP code is close to 12,000 cases.

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Early on, residents complained about a lack of nearby testing.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas of the 36th Ward, said that’s been resolved; there are satellite testing stations as well as large ones, like the outside Prosser Career Academy in the heart of the community.

“We want to get as many people as possible tested,” Villegas said. “You know the alderman’s office, we’re constantly doing city services but during this pandemic, we’ve had to pivot. Now we’re doing a lot of social services. We’re trying to help people with unemployment, food, masks.”

Villegas said his ward office has distributed 10,000 masks to residents. 

Belmont Cragin’s COVID-19 caseload trends higher because many residents are essential workers; it’s also a heavily Latino area, and intergenerational housing makes isolation difficult.

“Belmont Cragin has the highest number of Latinos in the city of Chicago, of any community,” he said. “When you think about Latinos, you think of Little Village, Pilsen, but actually it’s Belmont Cragin.”

Ulises Alanis’s restaurant, La Chilangueada – known for its fresh, handmade huaraches – has been in the neighborhood for about 30 years.

He and a handful of other business owners on Fullerton Avenue over the summer paid to have a bright mural painted, to bring brightness during a dark and trying time.

But he admits the pandemic has been tough on business, enough that he’s scaled back the hours La Chilangueada is open.

And while he’s appreciative whenever customers order, he wishes he had the technical know-how to develop an app (or that people would order from the restaurant directly); third-party delivery apps eat upward of 25% sales, and that’s money that he and his employees could use during this slow time.

But he wants people to be safe.

“A lot of Hispanics have been infected. We have to mindful, we have to be smart,” he said. “We cannot just go out there and throwing (sic) a party, 30, 50, 100 people. We have to be smart we have to stay home.”

As director of older adult programs for the Northwest Side Housing Center, Linda Peters knows people who have had, and some who have succumbed to, COVID-19.

Peters said most of Belmont Cragin’s 80,000 residents are Latino; many are low income; nearly 30% are elderly.

She said the pandemic has been “devastating” for those seniors.

“Mentally, physically, financially,” she said. “Because a lot of times their families were supporting them, and now their families are unemployed, have food insecurities. So that trickles up to the grandparents, who now are facing hunger like never before.”

Thankfully, programs through NSHC and its partners have provided seniors with thousands of meals, as well as a little bit of fun.

Crossword puzzles or newsletters are tucked into the lunchboxes they give away.

NSHC has also trained a bilingual outreach team, who calls 400 older adults every week.

“They’re calling, they’re connecting them with resources, they’re connecting him with resources, they’re hearing about their families. Unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of deaths, in the previous months and the current months because of the pandemic, so that lifeline that these callers are making with the older adults really is lifechanging,” she said.

Another area organization, the Spanish Housing Coalition, works to keep residents in their homes, through bilingual counseling, mortgage and rent aid, and education for tenants and landlords alike about the current eviction moratorium.

The moratorium is just temporary, which means that any overdue rent must later be paid in full.

Joseph Lopez said communities like Belmont Cragin and Hermosa have mostly small landlords, with two-and four-unit properties, who rely heavily on rent payments to make their own mortgage payments.

“It’s a trickle-down effect when folks aren’t able to pay rent, and small landlords are reliant on rental income,” Lopez said. “They’re then at risk of losing their property, in foreclosure.”

Lopez said he hopes the eviction moratorium will be extended, but he said that government at all levels also needs to come through with additional housing relief.

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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