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Zombie Homes, Revived, Bring New Life to Chicago Neighborhoods

Zombie homes—caught in foreclosure limbo and abandoned—have pocked thousands of American neighborhoods since the Great Recession. An article in U.S. News takes a close look at how zombie remediation strategies, like those that LISC supports, connect families with homes in need of care, and energize communities in the bargain. LISC's CEO Maurice A. Jones and Chicago staff describe the intensive, cross-sector work that makes it all happen.

The excerpt below is from:
Chicago Targets ‘Zombie Housing’ for Renewal, Block by Block
By Anna Marie Kukec, U.S. News and World Report

Jeannie Oquendo was the first to move to North Central Park Avenue in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago in winter 2016.

Amid frigid temperatures, the block had seven abandoned houses since the foreclosure crisis. It was the type of neighborhood that could attract crime, not necessarily first-time homebuyers.

But Oquendo, a single mother of three, didn't see any trouble on several visits to the street where she found a vacant two-unit building with potential. She got an affordable mortgage and bought the building. It gave her a chance to live in her old neighborhood and to be close to her aging parents.

"It's been two years now and you can see the neighborhood is changing so fast," Oquendo says. Those six other empty buildings have since been bought and rehabbed and families are living there now.

West Humboldt Park is among several Chicago neighborhoods that needed an intervention after the foreclosure crisis peaked around 2010. Vacant lots and so-called zombie buildings were left empty and in disrepair, community leaders said.

In 2011, Chicago officials created the Micro Market Recovery Program (MMRP) to jump start individual blocks that had a high rate of vacant buildings due to foreclosures. MMRP sought to transform those abandoned, dilapidated buildings into affordable homes for renters or first-time homebuyers. It would help to re-settle diverse communities and attract businesses.

Jeannie Oquendo became the first home owner in the 500 block of North Central Park Avenue after six vacant properties were acquired through the MMRP.
Jeannie Oquendo became the first home owner in the 500 block of North Central Park Avenue after six vacant properties were acquired through the MMRP.

Chicago had already spent about $169.2 million from the Housing and Urban Development's Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) for areas hit hardest by foreclosures. MMRP would take the next step and include several community groups, such as Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago – known as LISC Chicago – to attract investors and families, according to the Chicago Department of Planning and Development.

Besides West Humboldt Park, MMRP has reoccupied nearly 1,000 buildings, including about 2,900 units, in Englewood, Auburn Gresham, West Pullman, Woodlawn and other neighborhoods. Also, more than 400 families received help with loans or obtained financial assistance to keep their existing homes.

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