April 4, 2006

U of C aids in effort for South Side housing

The University has invested $1 million in a partnership with Community Investment Corporation (CIC), a local non-profit that aims to preserve affordable rental housing in several South Side neighborhoods, said Vice President of Community Affairs Hank Webber.

The partnership is part of an effort to preserve mixed-income communities in the South Side by providing low-cash equity loans for low-income owners to rehabilitate their buildings, Webber said.

“People are being priced out of the market,” Webber said. “There are also concerns about gentrification and long-term residents being pushed out of these neighborhood.”

Owners typically applying for loans to rehabilitate their property are required to provide 20 percent of the total cost. Under the partnership program, however, owners only need to provide 10 percent of the cost. The University loans another 10 percent and CIC loans the remaining 80 percent, said Director of Community Affairs Sonya Malunda.

She said the program is expected to preserve around 190 units of affordable rental housing in the neighborhoods of Woodlawn, Washington Park, South Shore, North Kenwood–Oakland, Douglas, and Grand Boulevard.

“We hope this encourages those building owners who need just a little help to maintain those units as affordable housing,” Malunda said. “If they sold their buildings they would become condos.”

John Pritscher, president of the CIC, said preservation is a major concern because many buildings in these neighborhoods were built before the Great Depression.

Webber said the University does not intend to own any of the beneficiary buildings, and that the program is not especially intended to benefit University employees. The “vast majority” of the loans will be repaid, he said.

The program is “an issue of fairness,” Webber said.

“The strongest communities are the most diverse communities and the University can take actions to preserve or create diverse communities that will be in everybody’s interest,” he said. “I think they’ll become safer neighborhoods over time.”

Pritscher said having secure communities in which “everything works” is a vital area concern.

“If you don’t [live in a safe community], then it’s very difficult for children to be properly educated, it’s hard for a student to learn, hard to be healthy, hard to prepare yourself for a job,” Pritscher said. “Basically, having a good place to live is a basis for everything else. It will have an impact on the community.”

Fourth Ward Alderman Toni Preckwinkle said she was “very grateful” that the University decided to invest in affordable housing. She said affordable housing is needed “all over the city,” and that her ward is no exception.

Requirements on government loans are nearly impossible for low-income owners to meet, Pritscher said.

Preckwinkle said the partnership would supplement government initiatives. “The government can’t do anything by itself,” she said.

Webber said the general public must take a greater interest in the needs of low-income residents and housing. “We can play our part, but the complete solution to the problem is going to require a much greater public-sector involvement.”