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Austin, Hermosa, North Lawndale Residents Take Future Into Their Own Hands With New Quality-of-Life Plans

Linze Rice

A theme is emerging among Chicago neighborhoods who took part in creating Quality-of-Life Plans (QLPs) this year: People have the power and they are ready to wield it.

Three new plans, which encompass areas of opportunity ranging from housing and jobs, to arts and culture, image re-brands, increased civic engagement and public safety, are set for publication this year, spearheaded by Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Chicago and its community partners in Hermosa/Logan Square West, North Lawndale and Austin.


“This is how capacity building at the community level is taken to the next level. By bringing together stakeholders, residents and civic leaders, communities can define a vision for themselves in their own neighborhood, and feel empowered to take ownership over their futures.”
— Jake Ament, director of LISC Chicago’s Neighborhood Network

LISC has helped facilitate 24 previous QLPs since 2000 via its New Communities Program, garnering more than $872 million in new investments aligned in support of community visions in neighborhoods across the city.

In each neighborhood, a designated lead agency - a local community-based organization - brings together a diverse group of organizations and residents to identify priorities. LISC invests in, coaches and champions each effort from the earliest building of local relationships, through plan creation, implementation and continual evaluation. The process empowers neighborhoods by building capacity in existing community organizations and provides a framework through which they can assess and build on unique human, institutional and physical assets while identifying and addressing specific challenges.

This year, lead organizing agencies include the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, New Covenant CDC (on behalf of the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council) and Austin Coming Together.

Learn more about their QLPs below. 

Housing in Hermosa. Photo Credit: Ashley Galvan-Ramos
Housing in Hermosa. Photo Credit: Ashley Galvan-Ramos

Hermosa & Logan Square West: Here to Stay — Stopping Displacement In Its Tracks

In 2005, the Logan Square Neighborhood Association created a QLP which heavily revolved around east Logan Square, including creation of the Bloomingdale Trail, now known as ‘The 606.’

However once the project was implemented, it became so successful and spurred so much development that it also led to unintended consequences. While it brought great open space and investment into the area, it also forced out or put financial strains on long-time residents who could no longer afford to stay in the neighborhood they had fought so hard to improve.

While the eastern part of Logan Square now faces a new set of challenges, organizers and community members hope their plan targeting the area west of Kedzie and into the largely Latinx neighborhood of Hermosa will be able to strike a better balance of preserving the community’s affordability, culture and long-term sustainability without tipping the scales too far into gentrification and displacement.

With new developments underway at places like the Healy Metra station and the upcoming lofts of “The Fields” at Diversey and Pulaski, Susan Yanun, leading LSNA’s involvement in the QLP process, said LSNA and other community stakeholders wanted to proactively create a plan that would get ahead of gentrification.

“Our vice president said, ‘I’m so scared because this is going to be like gentrification on steroids.’ It’s not the same community. Hermosa is still affordable, but we could see the writing on the walls.”
— Susan Yanun, leading LSNA’s involvement in the QLP process

Yanun and other community organizers asked themselves: How do we bring needed investments and value into the area without displacing people?

“When we’re thinking about amenities, how do we make sure we’re always thinking about the people who currently live there and creating opportunities for affordable housing, or ways to maintain or balance the displacement that may be caused by that amenity?” Yanun said.

After kicking off the planning process with a community meeting attended by over 300 residents in May 2017, Yanun said her group spent the summer analyzing and organizing the feedback. The input was categorized into five themes — housing; education; economic development; immigration; and, wellness and recreation — each with its own subcommittee of about 10 members. Between September and May of 2018, the committees set out to identify strategies and projects that could support each theme, which these leaders will pursue and implement over the next few years.

Among those planning outcomes for health and community spaces was identified the need for a new mental health center for the neighborhood to serve the Hermosa, Avondale and Logan Square communities. The single city-run mental health facility to serve the Logan Square area was shut down in 2012, and the closest comparable facility is five miles away at the north end of the city. There aren’t enough bilingual staff to meet the needs of Hermosa’s residents, many of whom are immigrants. The new facility would be funded through a minor property tax increase of about $15-20 per year, and a referendum on the project will be included on November’s ballot for voters in the district.

“It’s a recognition that with mental health, there’s not much there in the community,” Yanun said. “So we really need to be providing those resources. And national studies have shown that since the 2016 election, Latinos, especially immigrants, have shown higher rates of anxiety and stress.”

But the major source of stress for area residents addressed in the latest QLP is the issue of housing.

While home prices have skyrocketed in the last five years in Logan Square, single-family homes have remained relatively affordable for medium income residents in Hermosa. The plan is to keep it that way by establishing the Hermosa Here to Stay program — an affordable housing model that creates a community land trust fund. It would help new homeowners purchase and rehab homes at an affordable rate, as well as sell the home back at a rate that would provide the seller a profit, while also keeping the price affordable so other long-time residents won’t be priced out.

“Housing and stability is also a great source of stress for young and old people — that instability and constant wondering of if they can stay here, or if they’ll still fit in, or if they have to leave where they’ll go — those are huge stressors,” Yanun said. “Hermosa is still relatively affordable and is a place where we can do a project right now like Hermosa Here to Stay.”

The plan’s housing committee also identified a parking lot on Emmett Street next to the Logan Square Blue Line station that organizers hope will become a housing development that provides affordable rates to all of its units.

The plan’s immigration committee also wanted to find a way to preserve and celebrate Hermosa’s rich cultural diversity through the creation of a pilot arts program on Armitage Avenue west of Pulaski. It would visibly uplift and pay homage to the immigrants past and present that have contributed to the community via colorful mosaics, stenciling, banners and more, and support local small business owners and arts organizations to stay and grow.

The timing for the QLP is critical, Yanun said. This year, some residents were shocked to find their property assessments had tripled — a trend Yanun said must stop in its tracks.

“Logan Square West and Hermosa are really at this critical point right now because people are feeling the squeeze,” Yanun said. “It’s not like people don’t want nice things, it’s not like people don’t want a trail, or want a nice park — it’s that people who’ve seen displacement see it and think, ‘I’m going to get pushed out.’”

LSNA and other area organizations, residents, activists and stakeholders plan to announce the publication of the QLP at a march and rally at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 23, beginning at the former Mega Mall, 2500 N. Milwaukee Ave., passing through central Logan Square, and ending at the Emmett Street lot west of Kedzie.


Local mural in North Lawndale. Photo Credit: Alonzo Alcaraz
Local mural in North Lawndale. Photo Credit: Alonzo Alcaraz

North Lawndale: The Next Chapter — Uniting Residents With A Comprehensive Plan

In 2005, LISC and the Lawndale Christian Development Corporation came together to create a QLP targeting the area of North Lawndale around 16th Street and Ogden Avenue.

But by 2016, leaders in the community knew the neighborhood needed a change. Many organizations and leaders came together to form the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council (NLCCC) and successfully applied to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) for technical assistance with a plan. NLCCC identified New Covenant CDC as the lead agency, and later that year LISC committed to also support a new QLP to redevelop the community — this time taking a more comprehensive approach to encompass more issues, serve more areas, and reach out for input to even more residents and stakeholders.

After a community forum in spring of 2016, 13 committees were formed around key topics identified by community members. Those topics were fleshed out and polished during the summer of 2017 and spring of 2018, with each new step ensuring more and more members from the community were involved. The final plan has eight chapters, some spanning multiple committees: housing; economic and workforce development; transportation, infrastructure and technology; greening and open space; arts and culture; health and wellness; public safety; and, youth, education and recreation - additional NLCCC committees focus across these topics on communications and capacity building.

“This has been needed for quite some time; it’s long overdue. It’s important to include people in the process — you can’t have the success you desire to have unless you include the people who are a part of the community.”
— Tanesha House, lead organizer of New Covenant CDC

Some of the plan’s major highlights include uniting and empowering homeowners, in part by creating a neighborhood-wide homeowners association. Established last year, the program is intended to provide education and training for homeowners on topics like property maintenance, inspections, buying, taxes and more — a model meant to help create a collective voice and empower homeowners in Lawndale so they may convene and unite on important property-related issues in the neighborhood.

“Some of the work has already been established and is in place and functioning on an ongoing basis, and that’s been highly beneficial to current community members, as well as those who want to live here,” House said.

Another major goal of North Lawndale’s QLP is to continue producing arts and cultural events that showcase talent in the community. Between jewelry makers, clothing designers, culinary artists, dance performers, painters, sculptors and more, House said Lawndale hopes to distinguish itself from the disruptive nature of events like Riot Fest by highlighting its own arts and culture scene by establishing an arts corridor. Lincoln Park Zoo has also shown support for Lawndale’s arts and culture community by working with Douglas Park to add artwork and landscaping. Douglas Park will also see a new turf field via an investment by LISC, the Chicago Bears and the NFL Grassroots Program – supporting another key initiative of the QLP – to unite youth programs such as the North Lawndale Athletics and Recreation Association (NLARA), a joint project of UCAN and Old St. Pat’s Kinship Initiative.

“There is so much talent, but what we typically hear about in regards to North Lawndale is all about the violence,” House said. “You don’t hear a lot about how the people are so talented.”

Though the planning process has at times been daunting, House said it has been a labor of love, borne out of necessity and the desire for North Lawndale to grow, thrive and be recognized as a vital contributor to the city’s overall richness.

By creating a comprehensive plan with input from over 30 organizations with 700 collective members, House said the neighborhood is on a “historical precipice” of positive change.

“This Quality-of-Life Plan, this comprehensive approach to creating an elevation of the North Lawndale Community, is not just a pipe dream,” House said. “It’s an opportunity for people to truly get invested and get involved in the work that’s being done. We’re on the precipice of something great and very historical.”

NLCCC, North Lawndale residents and stakeholders plan to unveil their QLP with their 2018 Annual Meeting on Nov. 1 at 6:30 p.m. at Old St. Pat’s new site. Click here for details.

Read the North Lawndale Quality-of-Life Plan here.

Austin Coming Together. Photo Credit: ACT
Austin Coming Together. Photo Credit: ACT

Austin: Forward. Together. — Changing The Narrative

Established in 2010, neighborhood group Austin Coming Together (ACT) serves as the lead organization in the QLP for Austin, Chicago’s largest geographic community area and second largest in population.

Despite its size, residents say Austin is too often overlooked, or too often associated with violence and crime. So, rather than rely on outsiders looking in — the community came together to create a QLP that, for the first time, lays out a collective vision for Austin, designed by the residents and stakeholders themselves.

“There’s always been a challenge of creating a cohesive vision and plan for the entire community. The planning process was really an opportunity for people to come together, figure out where there’s consensus between groups and formulate an overall agenda for the community. Just to create that opportunity took a huge effort.”
— Andrew Born, director of operations for ACT

In 2016, LISC selected ACT to lead a new QLP, and soon the community organization began holding one-on-one meetings with neighborhood groups and civic leaders to begin assessing Austin’s strengths and areas of opportunities.

After about 50 meetings, a group of 30 leaders consisting of residents, church representatives and more underwent two months of community organizing training via the Southwest Organizing Project, also a LISC lead agency and veteran of two QLPs. A steering committee for the QLP was established, and in July 2017, the group presented its research before 250 residents during a community summit, asking them what they hoped for the neighborhood to accomplish over the next five years.

“People feel like Austin traditionally has gotten passed over and ignored when it comes to community development and economic development in the city of Chicago,” Born said. “A lot of people saw this as an opportunity to really shape what that can look like, and what the community wants here in Austin, and how we can control and drive that process here.”

Seven themes were identified: changing the neighborhood’s narrative and reputation; economic development; education; housing; public safety; youth empowerment; and, civic engagement.

Strategies to address those categories include placing an emphasis on home ownership and helping prepare new homebuyers, as well as educate current homeowners, on best property ownership practices; spurring economic development for and by Austin residents that won’t lead to displacement; establishing Austin as an architectural and cultural destination; and changing the overall perception of the neighborhood through use of local arts, beautification projects and elevation of people’s voices from within the community.

“People want to make sure we’re telling our own stories, making sure stories about Austin are being told by people from Austin,” Born said. “This planning process is an opportunity for us to build collective power to decide what we want in Austin, not what others want for us.”

For Austin, the time to unite and re-brand is now, Born said.

One place Austin’s QLP hopes to do this is around the intersection of Central Avenue and Madison. There, Westside Health Authority acquired the former Emmet School building, closed in 2014, and is working with community stakeholders to redevelop it - tentative plans include a workforce innovation center. A block north, Catalyst Schools, Circle Urban Ministries and Rock of Salvation Church have partnered to restore an old theater into a new performing arts center, not just for the school’s theater and orchestra programs, but other artists and organizations.

Born said the QLP also supports establishing Chicago Avenue as a West Side destination that celebrates black history and culture via art and beautification projects.

Austin, one of Chicago’s most historic neighborhoods, is abundant with noteworthy buildings and architecturally significant churches, housing and theaters. And, for the first time, this year it was included in the Chicago Architecture Center’s Open House Chicago event, showcasing 11 incredible sites throughout the neighborhood.

“People are really ready for this, “Born said. “People are ready to see changes. There has been a long history of people and institutions coming into Austin and making decisions that are not in the best interest of the people that live here, so people are ready to take back control of the community and make sure that we have power from within.”

ACT, Austin community residents and stakeholders will celebrate and unveil their QLP on Saturday, December 15, 2018. Details and RSVP here.

Thank you to the following funders who have supported this round of QLPs: US Department of Housing & Urban Development (all three QLPs); Steans Family Foundation (N. Lawndale QLP); and, Wells Fargo Bank (Austin QLP).