U.S. housing department awards Woodlawn $30 million

August 31, 2011

(WBEZ/Natalie Moore)
Redevelopment of Grove Parc is underway.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded $30 million to Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood to fight poverty.

A bulk of the grant will go toward redeveloping Grove Parc apartments on South Cottage Grove -- a HUD low-income housing development. The final product will be affordable and market-rate housing. But a key piece to the pilot program known as the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative is taking a holistic approach toward neighborhood improvement.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan came to Chicago Wednesday to announce that the $30 million will be used to leverage a total of $133 million that will go to Woodlawn. Community partners will provide afterschool programs and a community resource job center. Some money will also go to CeaseFire, a group that prevents street violence.

“The revitalization of a community can’t be something that happens to the residents of that community,” Donovan said. “It has to be something that happens for the residents of that community. And that means they can’t be displaced into a different community and not be able to return, not to benefit from the revitalization that takes place.”

This is a departure from previous federal housing policy. Under the Clinton Administration, HUD doled out HOPE VI money. The program was key to the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation, which tore down the city’s notorious public housing high-rises. One of the main critiques of the plan is that many former CHA residents haven’t been able to benefit from the new mixed-income communities.

Donovan said there will be one-for-one replacement housing at Grove Parc. That means all 500 low-income units will be redone and there will be a total of 900 units built for a mixed-income housing model.

Chicago is one of five cities receiving the money from the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative. Woodlawn is a strategic political choice. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel last week signed an agreement with the University of Chicago that pledges the school to help revitalize neighborhoods that surround the campus. Woodlawn lies just south of the university. Longtime Woodlawn stalwarts Rev. Byron Brazier, of Apostolic Church of God, and Rev. Leon Finney, of The Woodlawn Organization (TWO), are Emanuel’s South Side allies. Both were present for Wednesday’s announcement.

The plan’s present form didn’t happen on its own; Grove Parc residents had to fight for inclusion and against gentrification. Originally, HUD wanted to demolish Grove Parc and give tenants vouchers to move elsewhere. They balked and found a nonprofit willing to redevelop the rundown apartments, which TWO co-developed more than 40 years ago. Perseveration of Affordable Housing (POAH) received HUD approval last year and the Boston-based group is now in charge of the $30 million grant.

“The tenants in Grove Parc said they wanted some change,” said longtime activist Mattie Butler, executive director of Woodlawn East Community and Neighbors.

Butler said she supports the new initiative, even though there may be critics who want the money spent in other ways.

“When it comes down to people yelling and hollering about what ain’t right, I’ll be there to defend it,” Butler said.

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