Community Development that Transforms Houses into Homes

by Beth Filipiak
JCUA Intern, Community Development

What really makes a house a home? Is it the flooring, or the façade? The paint colors or the appliances? Or rather is it the opportunity to actually call a place your own – a place for you and your family to live, to grow and to engage the community? To build that community spirit and connection, to know that this house, and the community, are yours.

Ownership is important, and that is the philosophy guiding the Breaking Ground organization as they continue to rehabilitate houses in neighborhoods like North Lawndale, Hermosa and Austin. They then sell them at below market rates, assist buyers in receiving additional government subsidies, and provide a one year guarantee on all of their construction work.

They see their work as part of a long term strategy of not only building homes, but also of building lives and the communities around them. Because of the care and dedication they put forward in their work, many of the homeowners maintain their relationship with Breaking Ground, knowing that this organization is also part of their community.

Taking a recent tour of the project were (photo at upper left) Ralph Brown, Kaitlyn Wiedeman, David Midgely, Roberta Nechin, Josh DeGraff, Zachary Braun and Judy Levey. Wiedeman and DeGraff are with Breaking Ground. Brown, Midgely, Nechin and Braun are JCUA leaders. Levey is JCUA's executive director.

Taking a recent tour of the project were (photo at upper left) Ralph Brown, Kaitlyn Wiedeman, David Midgely, Roberta Nechin, Josh DeGraff, Zachary Braun and Judy Levey. Wiedeman and DeGraff are with Breaking Ground. Brown, Midgely, Nechin and Braun are JCUA leaders. Levey is JCUA’s executive director.

As a 2010 recipient of a zero-interest loan from JCUA’s Community Ventures Program, Breaking Ground is part of the JCUA community. Hence, members of the Community Ventures Program Advisory Committee went to the North Lawndale community to see the results of their dedication first hand.

The committee learned that this particular grey stone house was scheduled for demolition before Breaking Ground was able to take over. It had been vacant, unsecured, and needed major infrastructure updates.

Now, the original hardwood floors have been beautifully rehabbed, the walls painted, the bathroom tiled, the kitchen cabinets and counters redone and all major systems are more than up to code. Standing there in the house, it was difficult to imagine that it had ever been considered for demolition. Yet without Breaking Ground, it would have most likely been a vacant lot. Instead, the Breaking Ground staff are putting the finishing touches into a future home for a family that would not have been able to live there otherwise, and the neighborhood will have another family with a place to call home.

Home ownership is a dream for too many people. There are too many people in Chicago who need a place to live. As of January 2013, the Chicago Housing Authority had a wait list with more than 85,000 people, while they still have over 2,000 empty (“offline”) units. A July 2013 study estimated that 116,042 Chicagoans were homeless in the 2012-2013 school year, a 10% increase from the previous year.

Affordable housing continues to be a great need, and may seem overwhelming at times, yet JCUA continues to work toward a more affordable Chicago. To learn more about JCUA’s Community Ventures Program, click here.

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