by Ulises Silva
Run-down. Often-troubled. Unsafe.
These are words often used to describe the Back of the Yards neighborhood in the southwest side of Chicago.
But 23 years ago, the same words were used to describe Pilsen. Watch our five-year anniversary video for a glimpse of what Pilsen once looked like. Listen to the words used to describe it. Run-down. Often-troubled. Unsafe. These are words at odds with how Pilsen is described today.
Vibrant. Exciting. A good place to live.
While there is still much to address in the neighborhood, we know that Pilsen has become a neighborhood of choice for many. It continues to improve as The Resurrection Project (TRP), other Pilsen-based organizations, schools, businesses, families, and the city invest in the physical landscape (through improved and new buildings) and in people (through financial education, workforce development, adult education and literacy, youth programs, and much more).
Pilsen’s resurgence didn’t happen overnight. It took years of careful investments and planning. It took the efforts of organizations like TRP and strong partnerships such as the Pilsen Planning Committee. And it took the understanding that the biggest transformations would have to begin with the smallest changes.
A single blighted structure on a street can bring down property values, become an eyesore, and attract criminal activities. A single blighted structure can negatively impact the physical landscape and create unsafe walking paths for children going to school.
But take that house, rehabilitate it, and turn it into a quality, affordable home. Remove the cancerous blight and replace it with a functional space that will provide a quality home to a family. A small change—the preservation of a single home—has started something transformative—the preservation and eventual revitalization of a neighborhood.
This was part of TRP’s approach to revitalizing Pilsen. And it’s a part of a comprehensive community development model we believe can work in neighborhoods like Back of the Yards.
That’s why, in 2011, we worked with the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB) and Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLA) to secure $137 million in federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP2) funds. TRP brought $13.5 million of those funds directly to Back of the Yards.
We used these funds to acquire and rehabilitate 40 foreclosed and abandoned properties—a total of 75 units of for-sale and rental housing. We created 150 jobs by hiring people to begin rehabilitating these buildings. New floors, windows, and drywall were installed. Kitchens and bathrooms were modernized. Old properties became modern, family-friendly homes. You can see some of our end results here.
To date, we’ve sold 5 of 15 rehabbed homes earmarked for sale (with two more closing soon), and rented 17 of the 50 rental units developed.
This is a modest start, but the biggest transformations begin with the smallest changes.
Every home rescued from blight is one small change for the community—an empty, deteriorating property becomes a functional building that offers a quality home at an affordable price to a family.
Every family that moves into these rescued homes becomes a community resident, a potential organizer, a taxpayer, a neighbor. Every person living in a once-empty property has helped ward off blight and reclaimed that space for the rest of the neighborhood.
If all these reclaimed homes are occupied, TRP and its partners will have helped put millions back into local government coffers through property and sales tax revenue. The boost to the local economy will also be significant, with more families in need of nearby retail goods and services. Physical landscapes will be incrementally improved and help to change the perception of an area once deemed undesirable.
Such are the transformative possibilities of even one reclaimed property.
TRP reclaimed 40. Out of them, we will develop 75 units of good, quality affordable housing for low- and moderate-income families.
This is only the beginning, but a promising beginning nonetheless. And it’s one that we will build upon alongside our partners and neighbors in Back of the Yards. We are actively working with St. Joseph’s parish to develop civic leadership in Back of the Yards. We are also providing leadership and expertise in affordable housing development to support Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council’s efforts to create a quality of life plan in the community.
Pilsen’s resurgence has proven that TRP’s comprehensive approach to community development can work. It can work again in Back of the Yards so that, 23 years from now, very different words will be used to describe it.
Vibrant. Exciting. A good place to live.