Home Real Estate Five Black developers transform 11 Woodlawn vacant lots into 30 new homes....

Five Black developers transform 11 Woodlawn vacant lots into 30 new homes. Will this reverse decades of disinvestment on Chicago’s South Side?

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle appeared at the ribbon cutting for phase one of West Woodlawn Pointe, speaking candidly about how communities like West Woodlawn have suffered from disinvestment and marginalization, and the role that the Cook County Land Bank is playing to help rebuild neighborhoods damaged by institutional racism.

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5 Black Developers to build 3-flats in Woodlawn block, replacing 11 vacant lots
From left to right: Derrick Walker, DaJuan Robinson, Bonita Harrison, Sean Jones, and Keith Lindsey | Charlene Rhinehart / Chicago Southsider
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle appeared at the ribbon cutting for phase one of West Woodlawn Pointe, speaking candidly about how communities like West Woodlawn have suffered from disinvestment and marginalization, and the role that the Cook County Land Bank is playing to help rebuild neighborhoods damaged by institutional racism. Disclosure: This article was supported by funding from the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN). SJN is a non-profit organization that promotes and supports solutions journalism, a reporting approach that focuses on constructive and evidence-based solutions to societal issues. The funding received from SJN helped facilitate the research, reporting, and production of this article. Vacant lots on the block of 6300 South Evans Avenue on Chicago’s South Side were once worth $6,000. Now, they are worth over $8 million, said Bridgette Gainer, Cook County Commissioner, at a ribbon cutting ceremony held on Tuesday, March 7 for the completion of phase one of a block of 30 new homes now known as West Woodlawn Pointe.
From Left to Right: Elisha Sanders, Jeanette Taylor, Tiffany Taylor, Stacie Young, Bridget Gainer, Bill Lowry, Bonita Harrison, DaJuan Robinson, Jessica Caffrey, Cook County Board Toni Preckwinkle | Charlene Rhinehart, Chicago Southsider
Last year, five Black community developers Derrick Walker, DaJuan Robinson, Bonita Harrison, Sean Jones, and Keith Lindsey bought 11 vacant lots in Woodlawn from the Cook County Land Bank. This initiative, dubbed Buy Back the Block, is designed to put Black communities into Black ownership. This is a development by the community, for the community, and with the community, and that’s what the Land Bank is all about,” said Jessica Caffrey, executive director of the Cook County Land Bank Authority (CCLBA).
Speaker: Jessica Caffrey, executive director of the Cook County Land Bank Authority (CCLBA) | Charlene Rhinehart, Chicago Southsider
The CCLBA, an independent unit of Cook County government, is the largest land bank by geography in the United States. Founded in 2013, it was created to help revitalize communities by acquiring and holding distressed properties. CCLBA promotes redevelopment and reuse of vacant, abandoned, foreclosed or tax-delinquent properties. Walker, Robinson, Harrison, Jones, and Lindsey are filling the West Woodlawn vacant lots purchased from CCLBA with 10 three-flat apartment buildings. Families will be able to move into one of 30 three-bedroom, two-bath homes on the block. The project created over 200 new construction jobs in the community and is expected to bring in new tax dollars for future renovations. Caffrey said everyone who is apart of the Buy Back the Block initiative is “kickstarting economic growth in this community that has faced systemic disinvestment over the years, and they are trying to reverse the trends that made that happen.” Tiffany Taylor, a native of Chicago’s South Side, became the executive director of Chicago Community Capital (C3) Fund, a certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), two years ago. Her mission was simple: advance racial and gender equity. That’s why C3 is one of the organizations that provided financial support for the West Woodlawn Pointe development project. The fund is exclusively focused on providing capital to BIPOC and women real estate investors who are facilitating projects in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods. “We are just getting started,” said Taylor during the West Woodlawn Pointe ribbon cutting ceremony. “We are not done yet. We are committed to funding Phase II of this project and I’m here to issue another check for $2,000,000.” Woodlawn, one of Chicago’s 77 community areas, experienced decades of disinvestment that snatched away its economic power. The community was riddled with vacant lots and struggled to attract major retailers and restaurants. “This community was once an oasis for black families of all income levels who came here from the south as part of the Great Migration,” said Toni Preckwinkle, president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, a position she has held since 2010. “But after decades of restrictive covenants, marginalization, and disinvestment, West Woodlawn, like many of our communities on the south and west side of the city of Chicago, became a symbol of what happens when investment dries up because of systemic racism.” A July 2022 release of CMAP data shows that Woodlawn has a population of over 24,000 residents with 82% of residents identifying as Black and 8% identifying as White. But that wasn’t always the case. In the 1930s, Woodlawn’s population was over 66,000 and predominantly white middle-class, according to data from the Census Bureau. But in 1937, Carl Hansberry, a successful Black real estate entrepreneur and bank founder, decided to shake things up. Hansberry, the father of legendary playwright Lorraine Hansberry, best known for A Raisin in the Sun, wanted to use his middle class status to obtain better living conditions for his family. At the time, restrictive covenants prevented Blacks from buying properties in white areas like Woodlawn. Blacks migrating from the Jim Crow south to the north for better economic opportunities were confined to an overcrowded area on Chicago’s South Side known as the “Black Belt.” But Hansberry, a connected real estate professional on the South Side, tried to find a way around discriminatory housing practices. Hansberry secretly purchased properties in Woodlawn with the help of his white Realtor network. In May 1937, he moved his family into a property on 6140 S. Rhodes Avenue, but the faces of discrimination quickly appeared at his door. A white mob threatened the family and threw a brick through a window, almost hitting his daughter Lorraine.
Lorraine Hansberry home 6140 S. Rhodes on Chicago's South Side
Lorraine Hansberry’s family home at 6140 S. Rhodes.
In June 1937, a court case found that Mr. Hansberry was not the legal owner of the property. Because he purchased property in an area that had a restrictive covenant, he was denied the right to live there. This decision was backed up by two higher courts. Hansberry spent years fighting for justice and racial equity. In November 1940, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision, which resulted in the opening of 30 blocks on the South Side of Chicago to Black people. The court returned the deed to the Woodlawn property to the Hanberry’s. He took possession of the property on January 1, 1941. According to Hardin County Independent’s July 1944 newspaper, Hansberry regarded the moment of repossession as “an historic moment in the fight for equality of civil rights and liberties for peoples of all the world.” The Hansberry v. Lee case led to the appeal of restricted covenants, allowing Blacks to move into White neighborhoods. This is a theme found in Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun.” Woodlawn’s middle class appeal slowly faded away in the 1950s as more Black people of all income levels moved into the community to escape the overpopulated areas that kept growing due to the Great Migration. In the 1960s, Woodlawn’s population was around 80,000 and predominately African American. Like many urban communities, Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood started to suffer from the impact of white flight and disinvestment. Woodlawn’s population dropped under 54,000 in the 1970s and dwindled to 27,000 people in the 1990s. The population has continued to fall every decade. But new development in the Woodlawn area is bringing more attention to the once-blighted community. Bonita Harrison, the only female real estate developer involved in the West Woodlawn Pointe project, has always had a goal to revitalize the South Side of Chicago. She entered the real estate field in 2006, and has developed over 600 units. She spearheaded a campaign of five distinct black developers to “Buy Back The Block” in the West Woodlawn Community, which is bringing more wealth building opportunities to the area. “West Woodlawn Pointe has spurred a lot of development in West Woodlawn — an area that has been disinvested for decades,” said Harrison during Tuesday’s ribbon cutting. “Every block in West Woodlawn now has development…this is how you build equity and create wealth. We are looking to take this same model to other areas of the city.”
Speaker: Bonita Harrison| Charlene Rhinehart, Chicago Southsider
She continues, “This ground where we stood in May at our groundbreaking was a vacant lot with overgrown weeds. This was not a block that you cared to venture down. Now look at it: vibrant, promising, inviting.” Alderman Jeanette Taylor believes this is the right path towards equity in Chicago. She’s pleased with the transformation and what it means for the community. “How often do we get developers that are right here from our own city and our own community that look like us?” She continues, “Too often we don’t own the institutions or the homes in our communities,” says Alderman Jeanette Taylor. “It’s funny when people say you [are] tearing up your own community. We don’t own anything. That looks a lot different today because the folks who actually own [property] are standing behind me and they look like me.” Alderman Jeanette, like many other dignitaries, residents, and real estate developers who attended phase 1 of the West Woodlawn Pointe ribbon cutting, feel that the new developments will spark meaningful change around the city. “That gives me hope about what can happen in our community,” said the Alderman. “We can own institutions. We can control our destiny.”

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