South Shore organizations are looking to move the needle on the community’s future development

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Joliet native Claude Thomas III wanted to own a multifamily rental property. The 30-year-old said he was considering buying property in Hyde Park, Beverly or South Shore and found one in South Shore in 2020.

“I wanted to be around Black people,” he said. “Beverly didn’t have any multi-units, just single-family. And Hyde Park was too expensive. This was it for me.”

Thomas attended the South Shore Housing Fair on Nov. 5 — one of many community residents learning about housing resources in the area through the compact of community organizations that include Neighborhood Network Alliance, the South Shore Chamber of Commerce and South Shore Works. The South Shore International College Prep High School event was also the setting where South Shore leaders shared findings from the South Shore Housing Data Report for the first time.

The report, two years in the making, was done to help residents understand their community’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to the housing and commercial landscape. The raw data, collected by dozens of resident volunteers surveying every parcel of land in their neighborhood using data-tracking smartphone apps, will be used for context as those invested in South Shore advocate for resources, policies and programming in the hope to create authentic, inclusive and balanced development in the community, said Anthony Simpkins, president and CEO of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago Inc.

A sign along East 71st Street in South Shore on Oct. 27, 2021.

A sign along East 71st Street in South Shore on Oct. 27, 2021. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

”In South Shore, like in many Black and brown communities, the key is how do you encourage the growth of businesses, amenities and repopulation, while at the same time protecting the long-term residents and businesses that have been here from being displaced and allow them to enjoy the fruits of that investment and growth?” Simpkins said. “Having the data report goes a long way to helping people figure out the solutions to that. They can use that data to begin to plan.”

With the assistance of University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement and the Harris School of Public Policy, the compact of community organizations found:

  • South Shore has a high vacancy rate despite a density of buildings.
  • The neighborhood has a preponderance of renters (76.3%) making it the area in Chicago with the greatest number of renters using housing vouchers.
  • With a homeownership rate at 23.7%, the opportunity to grow homeownership is there.
  • Aging infrastructures, limited finances of owners and repair delays for South Shore condos and co-ops make these properties vulnerable to being taken over by investors.
  • Given planning initiatives underway, South Shore residents “have a narrow window of opportunity” to take an active role in overseeing the neighborhood’s future.

Val Free, CEO of the Neighborhood Network Alliance, said the compact was needed so that outsiders knew there were organizations that have an ear to the community, business and nonprofit worlds locally that were working on the betterment of the area together.

“We needed to have one voice in the neighborhood, when elected officials and organizations and governmental agencies were coming into the neighborhood and wanted to speak to someone, they needed to know what the community was thinking, that they could come to us,” she said. “The Neighborhood Network Alliance, we organize people block by block, area by area. The South Shore Chamber of Commerce, they convene the businesses in the community and South Shore Works convenes the nonprofits and institutions. You can’t get a better defense than that — a vanguard for a neighborhood who have three organizations in their specific lanes to say, ‘I can speak to this, I know this.’ ”

South Shore has had its fair amount of attention and number of recent studies — from internet equity to activist Eva Maria Lewis’ 2021 Impact Report on South Shore and grants for South Shore projects — but South Shore leaders are taking pride in the fact that residents have a voice in this one. Lashawn Brown, real estate broker and housing chairperson with South Shore Works, said the South Shore Quality of Life Plan coupled with this new neighborhood data is the reason why she’s hopeful that this recent research will effect real change.

A poster shows future planned redevelopment at the corner of East 71st Street and South Jeffery Boulevard in South Shore on Oct. 27, 2021.

A poster shows future planned redevelopment at the corner of East 71st Street and South Jeffery Boulevard in South Shore on Oct. 27, 2021. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

“We want to maintain residency in our community, we want to increase that and preserve the legacy of the homeowners that are existing today,” she said. “I saw a major drop in the legacy of homeownership when properties go to an investor for pennies on the dollar and the buyouts that have occurred in the South Shore community whereby no single resident or group large enough had the resources and funding to be able to take part in acquisitions and we had to sit by and watch as outside investors buy these properties with the purpose of renting them out or hold them so they can sell them at prices that we can’t afford.”

To make sure this doesn’t continue, the compact developed a dozen policy recommendations that nurture investment, prevent displacement and provide a structure where residents’ voices can shape and oversee the future of South Shore. The list entails: establishing and staffing a South Shore Coordinating Council, advocating to remove policies that encourage local property owners to keep their properties vacant and creating a program that gives tenants the opportunity to buy their building and maintain it as affordable if their landlord decides to sell, as well as permanently protecting affordability of a portion of homeownership units by creating a South Shore Community Land Trust. Alyssa Berman-Cutler, executive director of community development for the Office of Civic Engagement, is looking forward to helping South Shore and other South Side Housing Data Initiative communities — Woodlawn and Washington Park — make those recommendations a reality.

Longtime resident Gerald Williams said South Shore’s compact and data project is evidence that the community is starting to find its voice and gain traction. It’s a change that Thomas is ready for. He’s trying to figure out whether he wants to buy more buildings or start a trucking business in South Shore.

Pedestrians and vehicles cross the Metra Electric tracks along East 71st Street in South Shore on Oct. 27, 2021.

Pedestrians and vehicles cross the Metra Electric tracks along East 71st Street in South Shore on Oct. 27, 2021. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

“I’m leaning toward doing the business since interest rates are so high right now,” he said. “When I bought my first building, it was like 2.4% to 2.7%. Money is never going to be that cheap to borrow. I thought I might as well take advantage of it. I guess it’s back to normal now.” But that’s not stopping him from talking friends into becoming property owners.

The five-to-10-year vision for South Shore, according to Tonya Trice, South Shore Chamber of Commerce’s executive director, is to increase homeownership, attract former residents of South Shore back, particularly the younger demographic, and create shared ownership models, so residents can buy some of those properties to reduce the large rental rate in the area.

“We have to take control of the assets in our community. When we get involved in real estate, we’re housing flippers, but we can’t overlook commercial properties so we can control what is happening,” Trice said. “Mixed-use properties along the commercial corridors … if we have ownership of those properties, we can attract in businesses that allow us to keep that cultural authenticity that we want to see in the community. It’s a predominantly African American community; we’re very proud of that. But in order to keep that authenticity, we have to be able to put businesses that reflect the makeup of the community.”

drockett@chicagotribune.com

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November 14, 2022 at 06:18PM

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