Angela Hurlock Brings Affordable Green Housing to South Chicago

September 14, 2009

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As part of Chicago Matters: Beyond Burnham, we're profiling local visionaries with an eye on our region's future. Today meet Angela Hurlock, of Claretian Associates. She develops affordable green housing in South Chicago. When steel was king, South Chicago thrived. But after years of neglect the area's almost forgotten, known for its blight if at all.  Hurlock is trying to turn things around, with an approach to development that emphasizes family.

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In Chicago you can learn a lot about someone by asking them where they live – most Chicagoans take a lot of pride in their neighborhoods. Angela Hurlock is walking me through the place she calls home.
 
HURLOCK: This is my home here. I'm excited because I actually own one of our green homes. And there are about twenty different green features in this home…

Hurlock's single family home has solar panels and carpets made out of recycled ketchup bottles. It was built by the same organization she heads - Claretian Associates.

She's just down the block from her office, one in a row of neat wood frame homes new and old. They give a small town feel to the neighborhood, despite the urban setting.

But as we head down the street and east, it's clear this neighborhood is struggling. There are plenty of boarded up warehouses covered in years of dust and neglect.

HURLOCK: What we see now is a lot of crime, a lot of unemployment, things that come with neighborhoods that have been disinvested in.

Foreclosures and board-ups have hit many areas of the city recently. But they're not new to South Chicago. This neighborhood was once defined by the steel industry and the immigrants who came here to work and live. When steel died, the jobs went away and people couldn't afford to stay.

Turning South Chicago back into an affordable place to live is the mission of Claretian. The non-profit has been developing housing in the neighborhood since the early nineties. So far it's built 120 units, including rental apartments and senior housing, in an area roughly seven by five city blocks. All of the single family homes use green energy sources to cut down costs over time.

HURLOCK: So it's thinking about what really is affordable for all of our families. It's not just in the purchase it's in the upkeep and the usage. And if your utility bill is too high your home is not affordable

Through its housing projects and related services Hurlock estimates Claretian has brought about $30 million worth of investment into South Chicago. But it isn't easy. Claretian only builds houses when they have a contract, and even that cautious approach has been hit by the economic downturn. A couple of its houses stand incomplete and vacant, including one right next door to Hurlock's.

HURLOCK: It's been on hold since about December because some of the buyers they were going through transition. We had people who lost their jobs so the bank is no longer willing to lend to you if you don't have a job.

Claretian helps there too. Besides housing, it provides services ranging from after-school programs to jobs for people in the community. Even as landlords its approach is very hands on.

Every year Claretian staff throw a small back-to-school party for the residents of Casa Kirk, a family rental complex it built. There's chicken grilling on a barbeque, free school supplies and of course, one of those blow-up moon bounces.

Resident Ree'ne Morrison is at the party with one of her daughters. She likes the event, but says the home she found through Claretian means much more. 

MORRISON: It was a break, it was a big break.

Before coming to Casa Kirk Morrison lived in shelters with her six children.

MORRISON: It was very rough especially when you know you're moving from one shelter to another and you don't have no work, no childcare and you're by yourself. 

Now Ree'ne is working and feels settled in the neighborhood. But she's already aspiring to something more. Her goal is a Claretian-built house just across the way.

MORRISON: See that house right down the corner alley? That's MY house. I look at every day out my kitchen. Just to sit in my backyard and have my kids mow my lawn, that's my house.

Morrison's dream of a future in the neighborhood matches the vision Hurlock has for her entire community.

HURLOCK: A lot of time people say you know I always wondered when I go over the Skyway what was that down there (laughs) and that's South Chicago – you know, there's a lot going on here, a lot of families making life for themselves here in South Chicago.

If those families can stay then Hurlock believes South Chicago will emerge from the shadows of its past, and from beneath the Chicago Skyway looming overhead.