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Suburban Housing Strategies

Maximizing resources in the face of the foreclosure crisis and the suburbanization of poverty

MPC is supporting a group of municipalities in Chicago’s south suburbs as they work together to combat neighborhood decline and blight, by piloting cross-border strategies that build municipal capacity and maintain the quality of investor-owned properties.

Inefficient, uncoordinated development

Up to Code details how Chicago’s southland is collaborating to deal with distressed housing.

With suburban poverty rates at an all-time high, the region is experiencing significant community development challenges—including mounting home foreclosures, vacant properties and economic and traffic gridlock. Meanwhile, resources are in short supply at every level of government. Even if all communities had the staff capacity, political will and expertise to individually develop, implement and monitor sound strategies and policies, many issues—including housing, commercial development and infrastructure—do not adhere to municipal borders. Yet federal funding formulas and local policies tend to deal with these matters on a town-by-town basis, far too often leading to missed opportunities to leverage adjacent public and private investment, squandered resources and isolated neighborhoods that continue to struggle. In metropolitan Chicago’s 280-plus communities, there is a critical need to lower costs, increase capacity and improve the results of local planning and development efforts.

Work together to address shared challenges

In partnership with the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus (MMC) and Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), MPC is helping several clusters of Chicago suburbs pilot an innovative approach to housing and community development. By forging public-private partnerships, these municipal leaders are advancing more efficient and effective housing and community development strategies. Up to Code features a number of case studies that show how these strategies work.

It is not new for municipalities to cooperate to achieve efficiencies; for instance, neighboring communities often contract with the same water provider or garbage collector to secure a lower cost. However, interjurisdictional collaboration for housing and community development is relatively untested—and metropolitan Chicago has become a national proving ground for this approach. Since 2009, 23 suburbs in South Cook County and five communities in West Cook County have been working together to advance jointly adopted redevelopment strategies, while a newer cluster of five northwest suburbs formalized their partnership in 2011.

Philanthropic funding has enabled each collaborative to hire a housing coordinator, who advances shared housing and community development strategies, builds the capacity of local municipalities and assists participating communities in securing public and private funding to tackle critical neighborhood stabilization issues. The collaboratives have moved from planning to implementing new investment and economic development strategies and tools.

Smart investments and strategic tools

A single point of entry makes it easier for developers, banks, employers and funders to work with municipalities. Coordination signals that the area is a smart place to invest: Since 2009, the communities of the south and west collaboratives have attracted more than $40 million in capital. This represents a more than a 38:1 return on the philanthropic investment of hiring expert housing coordinators.

This funding, a mix of private and public dollars, supports foreclosure response strategies including the planned redevelopment of more than 200 properties and demolition of 40 blighted properties in targeted areas. Highly competitive Sustainable Communities Challenge Grants from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development have seeded two transit-oriented development funds—for housing and retail developments near rapid transit—and a land bank to return vacant land to productive use. These new tools allow the collaboratives to align investments seamlessly with the private sector.

Home Grown provides case studies for municipalities trying to create comprehensive housing plans.

CMAP has developed a Housing Investment Tool that helps towns strategically prioritize developments, advancing regional objectives in a noncompetitive manner. In addition, the groundbreaking Homes for a Changing Region planning process provides collaboratives with a long-term roadmap for addressing current and future residents’ housing needs.

The collaboratives’ unique role connecting municipalities, government, and nonprofit partners allows for the early identification of social and economic trends. MPC, along with its partners in the Regional Housing Partnership, created a guide to Managing Single-Family Rental Homes in response to a growing market in the south suburbs. As investors purchase single-family homes to rent, municipalities are struggling to manage these homes and ensure they are beneficial to the community, not burdensome. Following the publication of the guide, MPC, MMC and other partners secured funding from the Illinois Attorney General’s National Foreclosure Settlement to pilot a range of code enforcement and landlord tracking strategies within the south collaborative. This two-year pilot will assess the impact of the cross-border implementation and present lessons learned for the benefit of the rest of the region.


Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning
Metropolitan Mayors Caucus
Preservation Compact
Regional Housing Partnership