July 9, 2014

Join Us in Austin
COMMUNITY COMMITMENT

I N T RODU CT ION

Welcome to Austin

A

fter years of predatory
lending, foreclosure, and
building abandonment,
there is now hope for stabilization and recovery
in Austin’s housing market.
One year ago, the City of
Chicago designated the area
between Laramie, Chicago,
Central, and Kinzie Avenues
as Austin’s Micro Market
Recovery Program (MMRP)
zone. This designation not
only focuses the City’s efforts
towards holding building owners accountable for vacant and
blighted buildings, it has also
channeled the vast expertise
and resources of large nonprofit housing organizations
such as Neighborhood Housing
Services, Community Investment Corporation, and Mercy
Portfolio Services to these same
blocks in Austin.
While the City and their
partners have organized their
resources to jumpstart Austin’s
housing market, Austin’s community leaders are also coordinating their efforts to bring
about comprehensive neighborhood change. Improving schools,
public safety, neighbor relations,
and employment prospects are
all issues that are being addressed by dedicated leaders and
their organizations.
The following stories provide
examples of courageous leaders
in Austin and positive trends in
the area. We hope to dispel some
myths about the community and
encourage others to JOIN US IN
AUSTIN as we restore our community to greatness.

Andrew Born
Director of Programs and
Development

DAVID PIERINI/Staff Photographer

WARMER WINTERS AHEAD: Ethel Mason, 85, had a furnace and new energy-efficient windows installed in her Austin home under the MMRP.
She is also set to get a new roof.

Austin homeowners get energy
saving makeover

Forgivable loan program under city’s Micro Market Recovery Program provides funding for home repair
By LA RISA LYNCH

U

Contributing Reporter

nlike most Chicagoans Ethel Mason is
looking forward to next winter.
The long time Austin resident lives in
a massive stucco house with drafty single pane windows that did little to keep
old man winter out and the often high heating
bill that came with him.
To deal with the chill that permeated her
home in the 5300 block of west Ohio Street, Mason often layered in warm clothing and cranked
up her thermostat. She hopes that’s not the case
next winter. Mason was one of the few lucky

“Hopefully it will inspire people to
take more pride in their property and
their neighborhood.”
Andrew Born
Austin Coming Together
ones to qualify for a forgivable loan under the
city’s Micro Market Recovery Program which
allowed her to replace her old windows.
The MMRP aims to stabilize neighborhoods
hit hard by foreclosure. The program partners

with community groups to rehab and reoccupy
vacant homes, offer foreclosure prevention assistance and help existing residents repair
their homes.
Through the program, Mason got 24 windows replaced with more energy efficient ones
and a new furnace. A new roof is in the works.
The cost for the windows and furnace came to
$12,100, something Mason said she couldn’t afford without the assistance of the program.
“I really am looking to see just how much I
save on my gas bill,” said Mason who lives on a
fixed income and struggles paying her gas bill
See STABILIZING NEIGHBORHOODS on Page 14

14

Austin Weekly News, July 9, 2014

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STABILIZING

Want to find out
more?

NEIGHBORHOODS

Continued from page 13

that topped $500 per month this past winter.
The 86-year-old moved into her Austin home
41 years ago.
“Every month they’ll send shut off notices. I send them what I can send them. I am
hoping and praying that it will go down. I’m
hoping next winter it will be better with the
windows,” she said.
Austin is one of 12 communities involved
in the MMR program. The program targets
certain neighborhood blocks for redevelopment. The Austin target area is between
Laramie, Central, Chicago Avenue and Lake
Street. Austin Coming Together is the lead
agency for the city program.
The forgivable loan program does two
things, says ACT’s Andrew Born. The program provides access to financing to homeowners who ordinarily wouldn’t qualify
for traditional loans to make home repairs.
And it helps stabilize Austin’s already great
housing stock by allowing homeowners to
reinvest in their properties.
The forgivable loan essentially becomes a
grant, Born said. Homeowners are given the
money to do the repairs, but as long as they
stay in their homes for a certain period of
time a portion of the loan is deducted, he said.
The program is to encourage homeowners
to make investments in their homes, Born
said. He hopes other families are inspired
by the makeovers and will do the same. The
tradeoff, he said, is the value of their homes
and the neighborhood would increase, turning blighted areas into a more livable space.
“Hopefully it will inspire people to take
more pride in their property and their
neighborhood … or get more involved in
their block clubs …,” he said.
Born noted that Austin has many stately
homes, some of which have fallen into disrepair. Access to credit is one reason homeown-

You can find out more about the Micro Market Recovery Program by calling Andrew Born at Austin Coming
Together. Born is ACT’s community
planning director. His number is 773417-8612.

Courtesy Aaron Fenster

INSPIRING PRIDE: Neighbors on the 600 N. block of Lorel Avenue.
ers cannot reinvest back into their homes.
This program takes the burden off some
families, but is also limited by how many
Austinites qualified for the program, he said.
Out of the 100 applications distributed,

only five households qualified for the program with another 10 applications being considered. Residents had to make less than 80
percent of the area median income, and have
no unpaid water bills or parking tickets. Un-

6/27/2014

fortunately, Born said, that kept the numbers
small as to who qualified for the program.
“That has kind of been an ongoing challenge,” Born said. “We’re hoping that if we
got the word out that people have gotten the
loans and have made some good repairs,
people will overcome their reluctance to apply next year for the next round of funds.”
Austin resident Mrs. Price, who did not
want her first name used for article, said the
program works. She too is looking forward
to winter. Her home in the 600 block of North
Lorel was also in dire need of new windows.
“They were old and just deteriorating and
my house was so cold,” Mrs. Price said, noting that her windows were so drafty that the
curtains would blow from the wind. “It was
just ridiculous. I got duct tape and everything but they still will be standing out just
like a parachute.”
Thanks to the program, Mrs. Price had 37
new windows installed and a new outlook
on winter also. This winter, she hopes her
gas bill will be cut in half from the $3,000 she
paid when the polar vortex engulfed Chicago.
Mrs. Price called the program a godsend
since she wouldn’t have been able to afford the
$12,500 price tag to install the windows. She
admits she had some skepticism that the program was a scam when first told of it. Now, she
encourages other homeowners to give it a try.
“These programs weren’t working for the
Austin area. So everybody was afraid [but] I
would tell them it really works. And if I say
it works, it works,” Mrs. Price said.

Home Buyers | Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago

5049 W.
Harrison St. Program
Micro Market
Recovery

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rogram

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more information, contact: Andrew Born, at 773.417.8612
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LA

Austin Weekly News, July 9, 2014

15

JOIN US IN AUSTIN

New life springs from ‘Old Y’

Pastor Wilkerson gathers up
services for youth, seniors on
Central Avenue
By BOB MEAD

M

Contributing Reporter

ost people still call it “the Old Y.”
Pastor Robbie Wilkerson gently
corrects them. “Actually now it’s
the Austin Community Resource
Center” (ACRC). Since taking on
the role of executive director of the ACRC,
Wilkerson has worked diligently to bring
resources and organizations together at the
ACRC that will truly make it an amazing resource for the Austin neighborhood.
As you go in
through the entrance on Race Avenue you encounter a lot of activity.
Two beautiful murals depict the
Austin community.
Children,
youth
and adults are involved in numerous activities. You
can tell they feel
safe and at home
here.
The ACRC truly has become a safe haven
and center for community enhancement and
enrichment. This summer 80 high school
youth are involved in a variety of internships and programs. Twenty are children’s
camp leaders, 30 are involved with African
Drumming, 15 are active in a theater program and 15 are involved in Rights to Power,

A safe haven

and center for
community
enhancement
and enrichment.

BOB MEAD/Contributing Reporter

NEW LIFE FOR AUSTIN: Pastor Robbie Wilkerson helped transform “The Old Y” into a Community destination.
a youth advocacy training program. There

the New Birth Christian Center, a number

are 50 Kindergarten through 8th grade chil-

of After School Matters programs, the Sub-

dren involved in a summer day camp.

stance Abuse Prevention/Detention Reduc-

A diverse collection of service organiza-

tion Program (juvenile focus), the veterans’

tions call the ACRC home. They include

program DryHootch, Youth Outreach Ser-

vices juvenile re-entry program, and the Illinois Association of Extended Care which
assists organizations with licensing of recovery homes.
See SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE on Page 16

16

Austin Weekly News, July 9, 2014

JOIN US IN AUSTIN
SOMETHING

FOR EVERYONE
Continued from page 15
While the ACRC mission statement is still
being refined, the purpose of ACRC is to inspire and empower Austin residents of all
ages to realize their strengths, possibilities,
and rites of passage
through exercising
their full potential.
Wilkerson says he
wants the ACRC to
be known as a safe
haven for youth,
a location for seniors and veterans
to connect and receive services, and
a recreation facility
with gyms, fitness,
and dance.
The vision of the
leadership team is
to be the community leader recognized for helping men, women, and youth
improve the quality of their life, family, and
community.
When the Chicago leadership of the YMCA
was exploring closing the facility at Central
and Race avenues, they contacted SRHAC
(Single Room Housing Assistance Corporation) to take over the management of the
housing portion of the facility. Ald. Emma
Mitts was present at one of those meetings
and when the topic of what to do with the
rest of the building came up she called Wilkerson of the New Birth Christian Center to
be involved in the conversation.
Wilkerson pulled together a network of
the Austin Coalition for Youth Justice, the
Leaders’ Network (a network of about 30
West Side ministers), and the Westside Black

Inspiring and

empowering
Austin Residents
of all ages.

BOB MEAD/Contributing Reportere

EXERCISING THEIR POTENTIAL: Enjoying
family time near the ACRC.
Elected Officials to begin putting together
an effort to transform the under-used facility into a centrally located facility that can
be accessed for health and wellness, youth
programs, senior services, and re-entry services.
Wilkerson says his concept in restoring so
many services to the Resource Center are to
attempt to get back to the basics of what the
YMCA originally intended; creating a young
person’s Christian association. While most
of the organizations located at the ACRC are
not faith-based, the flavor of what is being
offered meets the needs of the Austin com-

We Can Help Find a Program for You….

We Can Help Find
a Program for You!

◊Mortgage Modifications
◊Foreclosure Prevention
◊Pre-Purchase Counseling

◊Credit Counseling
◊Financial/Budgeting Counseling
◊Rental Assistance

ALL SERVICES ARE FREE!!!!!!!!

Austin Weekly News, July 9, 2014

JOIN US IN AUSTIN

BOB MEAD/Contributing Reporter
Courtesy Aaron Fenster

SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE:
The ACRC offers many
programs.

We Can Help Find a Program for You….

munity in a holistic manner.
The facility and programs
are definitely accessible. All
programs are free for youth.
For adults a donation of $10
per month is requested. This is
amazing for the variety of programs and activities available.
While the ACRC is up and
running full speed ahead there
is still room for growth and improvement. There is a full size
swimming pool that exists but
needs updating before it can be
used. There is a major effort
to pursue funding to make the
needed updates to the pool and
other areas of the facility, which
State Rep. LaShawn Ford is helping push.
The Austin Community Resource Center is definitely
emerging as a real treasure for
Austin, a true resource for our
community’s positive transformation.

◊Mortgage Modifications
◊Foreclosure Prevention
◊Pre-Purchase Counseling

◊Credit Counseling
◊Financial/Budgeting Counseling
◊Rental Assistance

ALL SERVICES ARE FREE!!!!!!!!

HUD Certified Housing Counseling Agency
Kingdom Community, Inc.  5151 West Madison St. Chicago, IL 60644
Phone (773) 379-0077 Fax (773) 287-0071 Website- www.kingdomcommunityinc.org

17

18

Austin Weekly News, July 9, 2014

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Group aims to build capacity of black contractors

Black Construction Alliance
headed by Austin resident
Willie Thompson

the one percent share,” said Thompson,
BCA’s board chair and owner of Thompson
Construction.
Capacity is often blamed for the paltry
percentage of contracts going to black contractors, a notion Thompson disagrees with.
“The powers that be said it is based off
By LA RISA LYNCH
capacity. They consistently say black folks
Contributing Reporter
haven’t shown capacity to do projects…,” he
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is as said.
BCA aims to change that through what
good a day as any to start an economic emThompson called asset mapping. The idea
powerment movement for those shut out of
is to find what black contractors are out
lucrative state and municipal contracts.
That’s exactly what Austin resident Willie there, their trade skills and project hisThompson did when he and 14 individuals tory and create a database from that. Even
from the construction industry met on King’s down to black hardware store owners who
birthday. The goal was to formulate an action can supply construction or building materials, Thompson said. By
plan to secure more contract opcreating this network or
portunities for black owned conpipeline, companies can go
struction companies and build
there
to hire qualified and
construction capacity in the combonded black contractors.
munity. That meeting marked the
“What we have is a daimpetus for the Black Constructabase of those resources
tion Alliance, 8727 S. State St.
that the contractors can tap
Thompson, a union carpenter
into,” Thompson said. “It’s
for 28 years, called it a “dismal
a bottom up approach.”
failure” that black contractors
BCA has already yielded
consistently get less than one
results.
Thompson noted
percent of state and two percent
Willie Thompson
his organization was able
of city contracting opportunities
Black Construction
to furnish four contracwhen blacks represent 14.5 perAlliance
tors for a 700 unit condo
cent of Illinois’ population and
project in south suburban
32.9 percent of Chicago’s resiSouth Holland. He said the
dents.
project manager connected
Last year, he said, the state did
$35 billion in construction contracts from with BCA to find contractors ranging from
everything from engineering, painting to tuck pointing to carpentry work, fencing
architectural and landscaping “and black and masonry work.
“Our folks have been able to get exposure
folks have gotten less than one percent.”
That’s opposite of Dr. King’s economic vi- to more job opportunities so they can insion for black Americans since blacks are crease the market share,” he said.
The database also helps build capacity.
still shut out of unions jobs, Thompson said.
“We want to be conscious of the disparity Contractors who need accountants, archithat we have. It’s all about getting more than tects or specific skilled tradesmen can use

“We can impact
the community...It is
creating a network
of resources within
your community.”

DAVID PIERINI/Staff Photographer

BUILDING CAPACITY: Willie Thompson shares Dr. King’s economic vision for black Americans.
the database to find them. Having people
with the necessary skills to round out a contractor’s workforce enables them to bid for
more jobs, said Thompson.
Capacity comes from having the people and
the resources to do the projects. BCA also has
relationships with lending institutions to secure financing, another hurdle for black contractors. There’s also a mentoring component
for those interested in the construction trades.
“As we begin to identify these folks, [we]
find out what they are lacking to overcome
these barriers to success and develop a strategy so they can overcome those deficiencies,” said Thompson, who plans to open a
BCA branch on the West Side.
Since that Jan. 20 meeting, the group has
grown from 14 members to over 600. Mem-

bers range from carpenters, electricians,
plumbers, pipefitters, laborers to handymen
and architects.
Thompson believes by having a solid pool
of black contractors, redevelopment of black
neighborhoods can start from within. Architects, engineers and landscapers can examine a block and make recommendations on
what houses can be rehabbed, demolished or
even if a vacant lot is feasible to build a new
structure or a park. Another part of that
is hiring residents who have construction
skills to do some of the work, he said.
“We can impact the community in that
way,” said Thompson. “It is creating a network of resources within your community.”
For more information call 312-257-3472 or
visit www.bcaofchicago.com.

Chicago NSP/Neighborhood Stabilization Program

JOIN US

IN AUSTIN

Visit chicagonsp.org, and learn more about
the Rehab Forgivable Mortgage Program
For more information, contact:
Cardigan Shipman at Mercy Portfolio Services
312.428.4120 | CSShipman@mercyhousing.org

Austin Weekly News, July 9, 2014

19

JOIN US IN AUSTIN

One of Chicago’s best schools. Right here in Austin
Howe School goes from troubled to terrific
By BOB MEAD

I

Contributing Reporter

n many suburbs the quality of the public schools is a significant factor in the appeal of a neighborhood or community. The better the schools are, the greater the appeal
to live in the area that the schools serve. What if there
was a Chicago neighborhood school that was so good that
it influenced your decision to consider living in that area?
Would you be impressed by a neighborhood elementary
school whose 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th grade students exceeded
the national average for math scores on the Northwest Education Association’s testing? Whose approach to teaching
was so successful that it was made an AUSL Teachers Training Academy preparing teachers for public schools all over
the city?
It wouldn’t be hard to believe that 94 percent of those students’ families were either satisfied or very satisfied with
the school, or that 93 percent of the families would strongly
recommend the school to others, or that 92 percent of the
families believe that the school has made the community a
better place.
How about if over 98 percent of the students in that school
qualified for free and reduced lunches? And, what if the
school was located in an area of Chicago identified as having a higher than normal number of foreclosures and in
need of being included in the Micro Market Recovery Program?
The Howe School of Excellence is that neighborhood elementary school. Located off the beaten path on the 700
block of north Lorel Avenue, Howe is truly a bright diamond among Chicago public schools. And it is right here in
Austin.
At the end of the 2008 school year Howe was stuck in a
bad place with a very negative culture. Only
19 percent of the students tested at or above
their grade level, and about 20 percent of
the students exhibited serious negative behavior issues. CPS was close to calling Howe
“not salvageable.”
The Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) asked to be allowed to come in
and do a turn-around project with Howe.
The group asked for one year to demonstrate a successful, positive change, and it
received the go-ahead from the Chicago Public Schools.
AUSL’s three primary goals for that initial
2008-09 school year included 1) Improve the
attendance rate, 2) Decrease student misconduct, and 3) Improve parent satisfaction. Central to the
success was ensuring that teachers were properly equipped
which included one-on-one coaching, giving teachers the
tools needed to achieve their own development goals, and
providing professional development both within the school
and through CPS development opportunities. That first year
was a big success.
Co-principals Daphne Sherrod and Carrie Mendez were
brought to Howe in 2008 and helped lead that turn-around
effort. They are still there today, working with passion and

BOB MEAD/Contributing Reporter

EXCEEDING THE NATIONAL AVERAGE: Co-principals Daphne Sherrod and Carrie Mendez lead the way with passion and
commitment.
commitment to be sure that the students who graduate from
Howe School of Excellence are truly “college ready”.
The primary goal, and central strategy, is to improve the
student attendance rate. This past year, that
rate was 95.3 percent, above the CPS average of
94.5 percent. But, Sherrod and Mendez aren’t
satisfied with that. They want to reach 96 percent, then 97 percent. Why is attendance so
important? They say it is because “if the kids
aren’t in school, they can’t learn.”
To the question of how do you get urban kids
interested in being in school, the response is
to create a positive environment, offer out of
school activities that the children want to be
involved in. Activities include academic clubs
like Young Authors; sports that include wrestling, football, soccer, and volleyball; dance, an
art fair and science fair, and much more.
All of these activities are being led and
coached by teachers and staff from Howe, so the students
have extended exposure to adults who are truly invested in
their success. The big hook with the activities is that the
children aren’t allowed to participate unless they are meeting the attendance and academic requirements that have
been put in place. The children want to be involved so they
are motivated to get to school every day – on time; to complete homework and do well with their studies.
Recognition of the students’ successes is also a big part
in providing the motivation to pursue excellence. There is a

Students who

graduate from
Howe School of
Excellence are truly
“college ready”.

Student of the Month, and monthly recognition of students
in the areas of academics and attendance. There is a quarterly awards program to which the parents are also invited.
To help the children put meaning to the words “being college ready” the school takes students on field trips to colleges and universities in the area. Recently the school asked
some of the students who graduated in the spring of 2009,
after the turn-around was begun and have completed their
first year of college, to come back and talk with the students.
They were excited to share that the concepts they learned
as part of the turn-around process truly helped them to be
prepared, to succeed in high school and be ready for college.
The turn-around has been more than successful. The strategies incorporated and the improvements that have been
achieved have led the AUSL to offer their Chicago Teacher
Residency program at Howe. The residency program is a
Teachers’ Training Academy particularly preparing teachers to serve in the urban environment.
What that means for the school is that the classrooms being used in the teacher residency program have two teacher
trainees for the entire school year being mentored by an
experienced “master” teacher. This puts the teacher to student ratio at less than 1 to 10. The program that the teacher
trainees are in operates in conjunction with National Lewis
University. Upon completion of the year in the training
academy they receive their Master’s Degree.
All in all, the turn-around has made Howe School of Excellence a tremendous resource, not only for this neighborhood, but for the City of Chicago.

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Join Us in Austin section was organized by the Austin
Micro Market Advisory Council with the generous
support of the following organizations:

Proud to partner with
Austin Coming Together to support
the neighborhood we love and serve

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