Hope (for housing) springs eternal in Chicago's south suburbs
Photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity of the Chicago South Suburbs
On April 14, 2012, Nichole Lloyd got the keys to her spacious and beautiful single-family home at 439 Winnebago in Park Forest, Ill.
- By Melvin Thompson, Habitat for Humanity Chicago South Suburbs
- April 17, 2012
Melvin Thompson is development director at Habitat for Humanity Chicago South Suburbs.
Despite the still very dark cloud hovering over the housing market, this past weekend a beautiful ray of sunshine eclipsed an otherwise overcast Saturday afternoon in the Village of Park Forest, Ill. Indeed, a silver lining to the seemingly endless foreclosure crisis in the South Cook County region could be found in the outpouring of love and support shown at the Village Hall, in celebration of a home dedication for Ms. Nichole Lloyd, the proud new owner and very grateful recipient of a place to call her own.
Courtesy of Habitat for Humanity Chicago South Suburbs, support from Cook County, a host of community and business partners, sponsors, local officials, and countless volunteers, Nichole Lloyd got the keys to her spacious and beautiful single-family home located at the corner of 439 Winnebago. Lloyd, the mother of five children (three step-daughters from a previous marriage and two biological sons) persevered and took advantage of a wonderful Habitat program that empowers low- and moderate-income people to live in simple, decent and affordable homes that allow them to create assets, build social capital, and most importantly, become better stewards of their income.
This is an incredibly significant feat when you consider that the South Cook County region holds the dubious distinction of leading the State of Illinois in new foreclosure filings per property in the six-county area, according to a 2011 Woodstock Institute report. At the end of that same year, we saw the moratorium on foreclosures lifted, resulting in the accelerated deterioration of neighborhood communities like Park Forest, Lansing and Chicago Heights, where disproportionate numbers of vacant and abandoned properties have become major blights to communities across the south suburbs. Adding insult to injury is the fact that personal bankruptcy filings (particularly women and people of color) are skyrocketing, most notably in Chicago Heights where the numbers are staggering.
So for Nichole to host an “open” house for the community to see her new home speaks volumes about her faith and action to change her circumstances. After the short ceremony at the Village Hall, the packed crowd retreated over to the newly remodeled home, where Nicole showed off her brand new Whirlpool kitchen appliances, maple kitchen cabinets, spacious bedrooms and updated bathrooms. The gut rehab extends to the outdoors where her family will enjoy such amenities as a very generous driveway from the street that leads to a detached, two-car garage adjacent to a huge backyard area.
Qualifying partner families often have the option of choosing the most suitable homes that Habitat has acquired and this particular house best fit Nichole’s needs, especially with three of the four children (who will actually live with her) in high school and her youngest honor roll son heading there soon. (By the way, check out the research summary on affordable housing's positive impact on education.)
At Habitat for Humanity, the philosophy is to offer a hand-up not a hand out. Each partner family is expected to pay for their own home and Habitat services the interest free mortgage. That’s right, buyers pay 0% interest and their monthly payments do not exceed more than 30% of gross income. In addition, at least 400 hours of “sweat equity” are required of prospective home buyers, which gives them that proverbial skin-in-the-game and a stake in their own futures. Homeowners are also required to maintain employment for at least one year with the same employer, which lends itself to company buy in, whether it involves allowing time off to work on their homes and/or innovative employer assisted housing opportunities.
The Park Forest home is the second home (a home in Lansing, Ill., was the first) that Habitat for Humanity Chicago South Suburbs has rehabilitated with funding provided by the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP), a federal foreclosure recovery program that has brought funding to the south suburbs to help local communities advance a joint housing and economic redevelopment strategy. Collectively, HfHCSS is partnering with Cook County Bureau of Economic Development to use NSP funds for rehabbing 16 homes in Park Forest and Lansing (including the two that are now finished).
Indeed, HfHCSS is capitalizing on its opportunities to extend beyond its core of eradicating substandard housing to that of a comprehensive community developer. Having adopted the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative (NRI) into its program in 2009, HfHCSS has refurbished parks, and completed dozens of weatherization projects and critical house repairs for underemployed, low-income families in those aforementioned suburbs that otherwise would have been deferred.
Not everyone has to defer their dream of homeownership, however. That is why hosting an “open” house in the midst of a foreclosure storm (when so many of them are closing) means so much, especially in the south suburbs and to Habitat in general. The HfHCSS affiliate boasts a foreclosure rate of less than 2 percent over the past 25 years. That is sustainability—which is why one of the many housewarming gifts the Lloyd family received was a plant, a reminder that through the sunshine and the rain, life goes on. The quality of it is what drives Habitat.
If you would like to help or learn more, please go to gohabitat.net.