‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: Revisiting North Lawndale

Chicago’s West Side is welcoming two new projects aimed at bringing jobs and affordable homes to the area.

This week, North Lawndale celebrated the opening of a Black-owned warehouse and factory and moved forward with city plans to sell 250 vacant lots to a community-led campaign to build more affordable homes in the neighborhood. Both projects bring much needed investment into a neighborhood that has faced decades of predatory lending practices and redlining.

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North Lawndale is a historic neighborhood, and was home to Martin Luther King Jr. when he came to Chicago to protest against discriminatory housing practices in 1966. After King’s assassination, the neighborhood faced significant damage from riots and looting — something many say North Lawndale still hasn’t entirely recovered from.

Neighbors say North Lawndale is a hidden gem of Chicago. Attractions include Douglass Park, the Homan Square Community Center and Chicago’s first Sears Tower.

Interactive map: More from our community reporting series

“I think it is a rose that’s grown from concrete,” said Denita Robinson, a lifelong resident and now homeowner in North Lawndale. “There’s so much beauty that’s hidden behind so much darkness, but it’s now blossoming. A lot of the seeds that’s been planted are now starting to flourish.”

Building Affordable Homes

The Reclaiming Communities Campaign is working to build at least 1,000 affordable, quality homes on the South and West sides. The Lawndale Christian Development Corporation is leading the effort, alongside Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives and United Power for Action and Justice, a group of 31 community organizations.

There are more than 2,000 vacant lots in North Lawndale, said 24th Ward Alderperson Michael Scott Jr. He said bringing more homes and homeownership to the neighborhood will help strengthen the community.

“To bring back 250 families to this family I think would be huge,” Scott said. “We’re underpopulated. We’re looking to rooftops, rooftops bring economic development, economic development brings jobs, jobs bring better public safety, and so I think that’s all cyclical and it will help our community.”

Video: Watch our full interview with Ald. Michael Scott Jr.

This week, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the city would sell 250 vacant lots in North Lawndale to the campaign for $1 each. She said Chicago will also allocate $5.3 million from the area’s TIF district (tax increment financing) to help get the land ready for construction. The project is also receiving support from private investors.

“Our goal is how do we get people to not move but improve? How do we repopulate, get young people — like Denita Robinson and others — to not go live in the West Loop, but instead, buy a home in North Lawndale?” said Richard Townsell, Executive Director of Lawndale Christian Development Corporation.

Shangwé Parker is a real estate professional and member of the North Lawndale Homeowners Association, which has been a key driver in this project. Parker said his vision is for residents to build the homes, while learning a trade and earning a wage that allows them to buy the homes in the process.

“I think it would be such a great story if we actually had a community that can walk down the street with their sons and daughters to say, ‘Hey I built that home, I built that home and by the way, I built the home that we stay in,’” Parker said.

UCAN is among the 31 organizations collaborating in United Power for Action. Headquartered in North Lawndale, UCAN serves young people and their families in the community and across the city and state. It is known for its foster-care related work but has become recognized for its violence prevention and intervention initiatives.

However, UCAN’s work on the campaign is focused on helping their staff get on a path to homeownership, rather than those their programs serve.

“Our focus is gonna be offering this service to our much needed and well-deserved staff who are committed to do the work, encouraging them to be homeowners and also to live within the community in which they work,” said Fred Long, Vice President of Development at UCAN.

Video: Watch our full interview with Fred Long.

Bringing Jobs, Investment to North Lawndale

The K-Town Business Centre in North Lawndale held its ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday. The factory and warehouse are a part of The Will Group, a Black-owned manufacturer and distributor of lighting and electrical equipment — including a lot of the new, LED streetlights seen around the city.

The 60,000-square-foot facility employs 26 people now. Jarvis Reed is one of them.

“I worked different temp agency jobs, but this is the first job out of all the other jobs that I actually have now that is better than the other jobs that I had,” Reed said.

The company also plans to build a second warehouse in the next few years. The Will Group President Josh Davis says the goal is to hire at least 100 local people to work at the new plant. Davis says the company looked at other, less expensive areas, but decided to expand business in North Lawndale.

“Because we wanted to invest in the West Side,” Davis said. “We’ve been on the West Side since 2008 and long term for us we have developed a workforce that lives in the surrounding area. And so for us we wanted to stay in the community. We’re really proud of our ability to do that.”

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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