One Day A Year In Chicago, A Chance To Win A New Porch Or Roof

city roofs
Tripp / Flickr
city roofs
Tripp / Flickr

One Day A Year In Chicago, A Chance To Win A New Porch Or Roof

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Updated 3:57 p.m.  A Chicago Department of Housing spokesman says 6,895 addresses were registered Thursday in this year’s roof and porch lottery.

Carolyn Durr really needs to win the lottery.

“My dad got sick, and the roof is leaking, and I’m like, ‘We need a new roof!’” Durr said Thursday as she registered at Chicago’s City Hall to get her name in the hopper for a giant prize: roof repairs — or even a replacement — paid for by the city.

Durr, from the Grand Crossing area, heard about the city’s roof and porch repair program through a friend and was applying on the only day of the year the lottery opens for applicants.

She came downtown after trying unsuccessfully to get through on phone lines jammed by thousands of Chicagoans trying to register for the program.

Durr says if she doesn’t win, “I don’t know what’s gonna happen, I might just have to patch it up for a while, but I’m praying.” Her father is in a rehabilitation home.

City officials say the roof and porch repair program, which has been around since 1984, helps keep Chicagoans in their homes and stabilizes neighborhoods.

Winning is a long shot. More than 6,000 people — roughly 750 per hour — applied during the single day the program opened last year.

Of those, 493 got assistance, 271 with a roof, 222 with their porch.

To be eligible, homeowners need to live on the property and make less than $50,000 a year, or less than $71,300 for a family of four.

On Thursday, Chicago’s Commissioner of Housing Marisa Novara answered calls from the public for a half-hour shift. The Department of Housing office buzzed like call center.

“I can go through the registration with you over the phone,” Novara told one man calling to try to get his grandmother’s roof repaired. “Could you give me the address?”

Novara said she appreciated hearing directly from people applying for help. “One was, ‘My son is in a wheelchair and I need to add a ramp to my porch.’ You just end up learning more about what’s going on in people’s lives, so it’s important,” said Novara. (Nope, she didn’t tell callers she’s the housing commissioner.)

The city is budgeting $5.2 million for the program. Lucky lottery winners get either roof or porch repairs — or a full replacement — worth up to $25,000. The work has to be performed by a city-approved contractor. The roof or porch gets inspected by the city. The funding comes from the federal government.

Novara said the program promotes neighborhood stability.

“It is a way that helps us to keep longtime homeowners in their homes and oftentimes they really just need a small amount of money to help,” said Novara.

Applicants to the lottery might have trouble getting a home equity loan, or affording one, she said. They may be on a fixed income. Deferred maintenance is a common problem in many lower and moderate-income neighborhoods.

“The need has been great over the years, particularly post-recession,” said Joseph Lopez, a spokesman with the Spanish Coalition for Housing, which works on foreclosure prevention and promotes homeownership. “In an ideal scenario, it would be great for this program to continue to expand,” he said.

Spanish Coalition for Housing sends lots of people to the roof and porch lottery, as do other housing groups and aldermen. But Lopez said winning the roof or porch lottery has been elusive. In his three years on the job, he estimates he’s seen maybe five families win.

This year’s drawing — pulled from the names of Chicagoans who applied yesterday — will be held Oct. 29 at the Chicago Cultural Center. The city will draw around 500 roof and porch lottery winners. Repairs will begin in spring of 2020.

Linda Lutton covers Chicago neighborhoods for WBEZ. Follow her @lindalutton.