Chicago at Halfway Point of Neighborhood Stabilization Cash

March 10, 2010

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Valerie Leonard and John Paul Jones.
In early 2009, the federal housing department gave Chicago $55 million to help manage the ballooning foreclosure crisis. But some residents say they want more transparency in how that money reaches distressed neighborhoods. There's a public hearing Thursday at city hall to address community concerns.

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Neighborhood Stabilization Program

ambi up: what block are we on?

At the corner of 113th and Wentworth, three boarded up houses are lined in row.

For community activist Valerie Leonard, that blight ignites a sense of urgency.

LEONARD: There are people who live on blocks that have four and five abandoned, foreclosed properties and they want to see something happen.

Roseland is one of the 28 neighborhoods the city has targeted for the neighborhood stabilization program, or NSP. The city is using the $55 million to help transfer vacant properties owned by banks to redevelopment partners.

In turn, those properties will eventually go back into the market as homes or rentals.

John Paul Jones, another community organizer, says he's not clear on how the city is making purchasing decisions.

Some of the neighborhoods include Austin, South Shore and Woodlawn.

JONES: The city is not really clear about how they should use these properties as, in our opinion, remain as community assets. Certain corridors should be embraced where you can see new investment really lead to other investments. We want to make sure that these investments have more ripple effect to bring more private investment in certain corridors around schools, around parks, around transit stations.

Meanwhile, Leonard says she emailed “1,700 of her closest friends” to clamor for a public hearing on the issue.

LEONARD: I want to hear the city's perspective as to why this process is taking so long. I'd like for community residents to have a chance to share some of their concerns. It seems to me no matter where you go, if communities have been impacted, people have issues.

To date, the city has acquired more than 200 units under NSP. Officials say another hundred will close in a month or so.

Ellen Sahli oversees Chicago's housing agenda. She says she knows why people think the program is slow.

SAHLI: Not all vacant buildings in a community are foreclosed properties and eligible under this program.

According to the U.S. Housing and Urban Development department, Chicago is ahead of other cities in NSP spending by more than 10 percent. Chicago has 48 percent, or $27 million, committed. The rest of the NSP funds must be obligated by September.

Ellen Sahli:

SAHLI: On a given block, if we can't tackle four of the five vacant structures, we're not going to be able to get the kind of traction we need to demonstrate that there's health in the community. We are absolutely looking at the entire community, not just one house.

The city says officials are getting input from community groups. Critics like Valerie Leonard and John Paul Jones are skeptical. Alderman Ray Suarez says he called for today's city council hearing because people came to him concerned about not knowing enough about the program.

Recently, the city received another round of NSP dollars. Officials say they will begin spending that $98 million in a few months.