South Shore, Englewood, Humboldt Park groups receive $2.7 million in support for community-led developments

SOUTH SHORE – A program providing money, knowledge and clout for three South and West Side community groups aims to help local leaders drive economic development in their neighborhoods.

The South Shore Chamber’s community development agency, Teamwork Englewood, and the Puerto Rican Cultural Center at Humboldt Park are the first beneficiaries of the $2.7 million Neighborhood Developers Initiative. It is operated by Community Desk Chicago, a program of the Chicago Community Trust.

Each group will receive nearly $900,000, said Community Desk Chicago director Ja’Net Defell. The money is to be used as seed capital for a real estate project, to cover a development worker’s salary for two years and to finance project planning costs.

Beyond funding, the initiative will help local leaders turn their ideas into action; connect them with philanthropists and city officials; and lobbying for lenders to invest in the groups’ development projects, Defell said.

The business corridors in Chicago’s disinvested neighborhoods “have looked as long as I can remember,” she said. “Until we can provide a vehicle and support to get these assets into the hands of the community, they will not change.”

The groups selected to participate in the initiative were not required to have final proposals because the first phase of the program focuses on building the skills needed to successfully develop projects, Defell said.

“We’re not specifically asking her today what her project for the Neighborhood Developers Initiative is,” Defell said. “They can take the time to embark on the learning journey and then decide what they want to work on.”

Recognition: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Paseo Boricua along Division Street in Humboldt Park on March 29, 2021.

The Puerto Rican Cultural Center will be able to continue building Puerto Rico Town’s cultural district in Humboldt Park, Chief Operating Officer Juan Calderón said.

Governor JB Pritzker signed a bill last fall designating Division Street between Western Avenue and California Avenue a state-designated cultural district, meaning Illinois will allocate resources to preserving and promoting culture along the stretch known as Paseo Boricua .

This appointment is the first step in “fulfilling our vision” for the district and the surrounding community, Calderón said. The Neighborhood Developers Initiative will support the housing and economic development aspects of a broader plan for the city of Puerto Rico, he said.

“We have several projects that we are investigating that we are working with the Neighborhood Developers Initiative to hopefully increase the number of affordable housing units,” Calderón said.

The plan also includes a focus on health and education and extends beyond Paseo Boricua. The proposed boundaries of Puerto Rico Town extend from Bloomingdale to Chicago Avenues and from Pulaski Road to Western Avenue.

Humboldt Park is home to Chicago’s largest Puerto Rican population and a center of Puerto Rican culture in the Midwest. In recent years, property prices in Humboldt Park have skyrocketed as the neighborhood has gentrified, in part because of The 606’s Bloomingdale Trail.

It’s “very difficult” for community organizations like the Puerto Rican Cultural Center — even if they have development experience — to buy real estate and build in their backyards without major investment, Calderón said.

“With these specific tools, we can partner with the entire community … to build our organization’s capacity and infrastructure,” he said.

Recognition: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Go Green Fresh Market, 1207 W. 63rd St., in Englewood on February 10, 2022.

Teamwork Englewood was chosen because the nonprofit represents the neighborhood’s talented residents who are working to change their community’s perception of a “dangerous and violent one,” Defell said.

Teamwork Englewood has previously been involved in community development, from his leadership of a 2016 neighborhood quality plan to his involvement in the Englewood Square project and the Go Green on Racine collective to revitalize 63rd Street.

The Neighborhood Developers Initiative will not only help the nonprofit build on that experience, but also enable it to share knowledge with its neighbors and partners in Englewood, said executive director Cecile De Mello.

The initiative will also allow Teamwork Englewood to hire an associate with expertise in property acquisition, financing and other aspects of the development process, De Mello said.

“What we want to do is learn and bring those learnings and best practices to our community,” she said. “It gives us that opportunity.”

Recognition: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
7051 S. Bennett Ave. is a formerly derelict apartment building that has been renovated by a group of South Shore residents to revitalize the community.

The South Shore Chamber Community Development Corporation was selected because “71st Street is poised to become a district [where] people can shop and eat out,” Defell said with the construction of the Obama Presidential Center in nearby Jackson Park.

The resident-led collective that rehabilitated a vacant apartment building and the presence of the INVEST South/West program in the neighborhood also add to South Shore’s “development momentum,” she said.

The Chamber’s body will use the initiative’s resources to support existing and new projects, said Executive Director Tonya Trice.

The company is buying land to develop, but Trice declined to give details until that process is complete. Officials will work with South Shore residents to determine how the property can improve the quality of life in the neighborhood, she said.

“I think South Shore is well positioned to revitalize its trade corridors,” Trice said. “The dynamism is there given the proximity to the Obama Center and the lakefront.”

The Neighborhood Developers Initiative is a two-year program, but it aims to propel community groups to be successful developers in their neighborhoods well beyond 2024, Defell said.

“This is just the beginning for these three organizations and for these communities,” Defell said. “If we get this right, in two years these people will have the foundation and skills to move the work forward.”

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