By Judy Levey
Community Development Manager, JCUA
In the midst of an ongoing economic crisis that is displacing families and destabilizing communities, Jews and Muslims are reimagining what we can accomplish when we come together based on our shared commitment to social justice. Putting that energy to work locally, together we are tackling the foreclosure crisis that is devastating communities across the nation.
This is a story of how we can go beyond interfaith dialogue to collaborative action, and how you can get involved.
Since 2009, residents near the intersection of Fairfield and 63rd Street have grown increasingly distressed about an abandoned house in their neighborhood. With over 5,500 foreclosures in the 60629 area code on Chicago’s Southwest Side between 2006-2010, there are scores of houses that are creating danger zones and wreaking havoc on neighborhood stability.
The house on Fairfield Avenue was of particular concern, and thus became the catalyst for an innovative partnership between JCUA and the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), who, along with the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) are based in the neighborhood.
The location of this house, across from St. Rita’s Church and Fairfield Academy (a local elementary school), and down the block from IMAN’s offices, put it in the middle of a designated Community Safe Zone where community organizers and Cease Fire staff worked to combat crime and fear. Incidents of break-ins and an assault on a young girl on the premises of the home made neighbors even more frustrated and anxious.
A series of meetings with residents, stakeholders, and organizational staff led to a mobilized effort to clean up and secure the property. In response to pressure from the collaboration, the City instructed Neighborhood Housing Services to board up and secure the building. At a hearing last March, the City used a State of Illinois abandonment statute that requires any possible owner of the building to come forward. If no one claims ownership, the City will request a judicial deed for the property and will then have the ability to transfer ownership to IMAN under the City’s Preserving Communities Together program. The only remaining obstacle is an upcoming hearing on July 28 – the last date for an owner to appear.
The first hearing brought out substantial representation from the neighborhood, and the judge was clearly impressed by the strength and diversity of the people who attended and their passion for the community. Over the past two months, residents have come together on several occasions with involved organizations to have a barbecue, paint murals, pull weeds, and more recently, to build a fence and plant a garden.
At a block action party on May 19, a group of interfaith clergy joined residents and community leaders in an effort to call attention to the blight of abandoned foreclosed homes, and several local officials were present.
The momentum for Community Reclamation in Chicago Lawn continues to grow and plans are underway for implementing strategies for fixing up the property so that people can live there. There is a powerful optimism at play in this unique interfaith partnership. Working together we can make an enormous difference.