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December 6, 2009

Archdiocese invests $500K in affordable housing

By Michelle Martin


The Archdiocese of Chicago is investing $500,000 from a fund set aside to create affordable housing into efforts by The Resurrection Project, a not-for-profit organization active in Chicago’s Pilsen, Little Village and Back of the Yards areas.

The money from the archdiocese will be used as pre-development lead funding for apartment buildings with units set aside for families and individuals whose income is between 30 and 60 percent of the median for the area.

It will allow The Resurrection Project to acquire land and begin development without having to get collateral-backed mortgage funding. Once the buildings are under way, the project anticipates being able to attract other funding, both commercially and from government and not-for-profit sources. Then the money from the archdiocese could be pulled out from one project and used to start another.

“There is dramatic necessity in our city neighborhoods for this kind of development that has been shown to be a critical component necessary to helping to reduce poverty, homelessness and other forms of social disruption,” said Cardinal George at a Nov. 23 press conference.

“We are very pleased that the archdiocese can partner with The Resurrection Project, which has realistically challenged people and institutions to act on their faith and values to help create healthy neighborhoods and communities.”

History of building

The money comes from a fund set aside to encourage the development of affordable housing. From 1995 through 2004, the archdiocese had set aside $3 million for the Ezra Project, an ecumenical partnership that developed nearly 100 homes for sale to low- to moderate-income families in the Lawndale area. As those homes were sold, the money came back to the archdiocese for further efforts to develop affordable housing.

In addition to the $500,000 investment in The Resurrection Project, the archdiocese is setting aside $2.3 million to be used as a revolving loan fund at low-interest rates for not-for-profit developers of affordable housing. It is intended to create large numbers of single-family and multi-unit affordable housing, as well as creating opportunities for energy efficient utility upgrades to existing homes.

Cardinal George and Raul Raymundo, executive director of The Resurrection Project, announced the joint effort at Casa Morelos, a 45-unit apartment building developed by the project that is similar to new developments the archdiocese’s investment could jump-start.

Raymundo said Casa Morelos has a mix of affordable and market-rate units with one, two and three bedrooms. Rent ranges from $400 to $900 a month, and includes the use of the buildings facilities, including laundry and meeting rooms.

It was a particular boon in the Pilsen neighborhood, where gentrification has meant rising rents in older buildings.

“The tenants tell me that they save money on their rent, on their utilities and on their health care, because many of the older buildings are filled with lead-based paint and other hazards,” said Raymundo. “They also don’t have to buy plastic to cover the windows in the winter.”

Necessary support

Building such units takes money, which has been hard to come by in a tight credit market, Raymundo said.

“It’s necessary to have capital,” Raymundo said. “The capital that the archdiocese is investing allows us to secure additional land, additional buildings.”

Cardinal George said he became aware of the importance of adequate, affordable housing when he was a bishop in the Pacific Northwest, and visited families of migrant workers.

“They were staying in the United States year-round, living through the winter in inadequate summer housing,” he said. “The warmth of those families contrasted with the cold that surrounded them.”

Working together

The Resurrection Project was a welcome partner for the archdiocese because of its long history working not only with several largely Latino parishes but with the archdiocese itself on a variety of projects.

Founded in 1990 with contributions of $5,000 each from six member parishes, the organization has been able to attract more than $170 million in community reinvestment on the Southwest Side. Its triple focus is community organizing, development and programming.

Archdiocesan chancellor Jimmy Lago said the $500,000 the archdiocese is providing is aimed at attracting further investment.

“The number may seem small, but this allows us to leverage a lot more money,” he said.

“We feel confident that the money will be well spent. This investment is something we want to be good stewards of so that it will continue to grow.”