25 New Homeowners Reclaim Vacant Buildings to Owner-Occupied Homes
Community leaders celebrate the achievement of creating 25 first-time homebuyers in Chicago’s Woodlawn community by transforming vacant buildings into rehabbed owner-occupied homes. The achievement comes three months ahead of the goal set for the Renew Woodlawn Homeownership Program to assist 20 prospective homebuyers by September 30, 2017.
Increasing homeownership is part of the ongoing efforts spearheaded by three Chicago nonprofits that specialize in affordable housing to revitalize Woodlawn with support from community residents. Led by Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH), Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago (NHS), and Community Investment Corporation (CIC), in partnership with the city of Chicago Department of Planning and Development (CDPD); the Renew Woodlawn Homeownership Program launched in May 2016. Renew Woodlawn re-establishes a strong homebuyer market by providing homeownership education and counseling, as well as incentives such as grants and forgivable loans to purchase and rehabilitate homes.
“We are proud of the success we have been able to achieve in Woodlawn, which has resulted in the neighborhood seeing population growth for the first time in years,” said Bill Eager, POAH’s Chicago vice president. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2015 the population in Woodlawn reached 26,446 residents, a 13% increase from 2010. “Through our collective efforts” continued Mr. Eager, “we have been able to restore vacant buildings, as well as attract homeowners and even new businesses to the community.”
With nearly 150 acres of vacant land and more than 350 vacant buildings, a comprehensive approach to redevelopment was required in Woodlawn. Over the past 13 months, reinvestment, infrastructure improvements, and financial incentives to buy and rehab homes have generated a resurgence in the community.
As Woodlawn transforms into a thriving and healthy urban neighborhood, lifelong community renters have been able to see their dream of homeownership become a reality through the program. To date, seven of the 25 new homeowners are long-term renters in the community. Through the program, 22 vacant buildings were transformed into owner-occupied homes, resulting in 39 new units in the community. In addition, more than $675,000 has been awarded in grants to help with down payment assistance and property rehabilitation with the average grant amount totaling $27,018. The average sale price, which includes both single-family and 2-4 unit buildings, was $155,000, and values are rising.
According to real estate website Redfin, Woodlawn was named one of the hottest neighborhoods in Chicago for 2017.
“The success of the Renew Woodlawn program would not be possible without the collective efforts of engaged residents, community organizations, government, developers and lenders all working together to change the trajectory of disinvestment in the community,” said Kristin Faust, president of NHS. “This program is proof that together we can develop solutions to transform vacant buildings into neighborhood assets.”
Committed to preserving affordability while increasing investment in the community, the program required borrowers and renters in the 2-4 unit buildings to have a household income no greater than 120 percent of area median income. This important homeownership initiative helps stabilize the community for years to come and builds on the successful affordable rental housing developments led by POAH and CIC. Once the latest development, Woodlawn Station, is completed next year, 572 mixed-income apartments in Woodlawn will have been built or rehabbed since 2008. .
“As an active lender in Woodlawn for many years we are honored to be part of such an important program that is transforming the community,” said Jack Markowski, president and CEO of CIC.
To help prepare the program participants, all of whom were first-time homebuyers, for the responsibility of owning a home, applicants were required to attend an eight-hour Homebuyer Education Workshop provided by a HUD-certified counselor. The workshops, held monthly at the Woodlawn Resource Center, prepared prospective homebuyers for the home buying process such as managing a budget, improving credit, understanding the closing process, as well as how to maintain a home.
“The Homebuyer Education Workshop, grant incentives and assistance from the NHS construction specialist empowered me to take the necessary steps towards not only becoming a homeowner but a landlord,” said Michael Taylor, proud new homeowner of a 2-unit. “As a kid I remember walking down Cottage Grove Avenue thinking how great it would be to live near the Washington Park Lagoon, lakefront and Hyde Park, continued Mr. Taylor, “to now be a homeowner and be walking distance from those places it’s like my dream has come true.”
Renew Woodlawn is part of ongoing neighborhood revitalization efforts initiated by POAH with its acquisition in 2008 of the former Grove Parc Plaza and a HUD Choice grant awarded to POAH and the City of Chicago in 2011. The Renew Woodlawn program is funded by HUD, the National Foreclosure Settlement Awards through the Office of the State Attorney General, and the city of Chicago.
The Renew Woodlawn target area is bounded by 60th St. on the north, 67th St. on the south, King Drive on the west and Stony Island Ave. on the east.