Tag Archives: North Lawndale

A look at poverty on the West Side

Poverty rates in Chicago are nearly twice the statewide rate – and in Lawndale they’re more than three times the state average.  That’s one revelation from a multimedia investigation of the impact of poverty on the West Side by the North Lawndale Community News.  The series talks to experts, examines nonprofits working on the problem, and tells the stories of individual struggles.

Poverty in North Lawndale is now estimated at 42 percent, and unemployment has doubled there in the past decade, from 13 to 26 percent, says community development consultant Valerie F. Leonard in an interview with Nicholas Short.

Leonard worked on a 2005 survey of community organizations in North Lawndale that identified 325 organizations, 40 percent of which provide youth, family, or job services.  After learning that an estimated 80,000 Chicagoans are eligible for public benefits but don’t access them, she developed a guide to community resources.

Algernon Austin of the Economic Policy Institute tells Short that the U.S. has the highest poverty rate of any developed nation.  “And it’s not that these other countries…are richer than we are, it’s that they devote more of their resources to fighting poverty,” Austin says.  He emphasizes the need for more economic stimulus from the federal government, particularly on job creation and assistance to states and localities.

Research by the Center for American Progress shows that higher poverty levels are a drag on the nation’s economy, with lost workforce productivity and increased public expenditures due to poor health and high crime rates, Short reports.  Economist Mark Witte of Northwestern University explains that higher poverty levels add to the lack of demand that is stifling the economic recovery.

Nonprofits respond

West Side organizations are doing what they can.  Tali Bahkit reports on PEP-U, a job readiness program for juvenile offenders created five years ago by “concerned probation officers who wanted to make a difference.”

La Risa Lynch reports on West Side groups that were funded by a federal anti-violence program two years ago – and have continued the work despite the dollars drying up.  “In communities like ours, resources are few and far between, but challenges are always present,” says Tracie Worthy, director of the New Communities Program at Lawndale Christian Development Corporation.  LCDC has found new resources to expand its Hoops in the Hood program.

A community arts center located in the old firehouse which is also home to Tha House Hip Hop Church is continuing its youth video production program.  “You’ve got to find something that competes with the streets,” says Pastor Phil Jackson.  He’s hoping that local movie theaters will add to their preview lineups a short youth-produced video addressing negative stereotypes of urban youth.

And the Lawndale Amachi Mentoring Program is continuing its program hiring youth to do beautification projects – designed to build self-worth and community pride along with job experience for young people.  The organization mentors children whose parents are in the criminal justice system, and Dr.Betty Green says many suffer emotional trauma and anger which makes school more difficult for them.

Bill’s story

Nicholas Short and Guillermo Martinez tell the story of Bill, a 41-year-old former tatoo artist who’s lived on the streets for ten years after 15 years in prison.  His teeth are “falling apart,” he has Hepatitis B and C and sores on his body, he’s not allowed in restaurants or stores, and he says he’s used an indoor bathroom once in the past two weeks and had one shower this year.

But he’s “a gentle giant” who blames no one but himself for his situation.

Bill has tried repeatedly to break his drug habit, and discusses the difficulties of getting help:  he recently got a copy of his birth certificate and now needs a Social Security card so he can get a state ID – “You need ID to get an ID,” he says – with the goal of getting into an inpatient drug program.

His girlfriend and the mother of his son once ran the streets with him, but she managed to get clean and now manages a restaurant.  “I want to be a dad again,” Bill says.

Tali Bahkit talks with Donald Dukes, a 52-year-old man who’s survived a history of drugs and prison and now struggles to build a new life providing for his family.  He’s frustrated over the lack of support from – and the difficulty communicating with – elected officials who represent the community.

Bahkit also talks to young people who are stopped by the police, handcuffed and thoroughly searched simply because they walk past an area designated as a “hot spot.”  A young mother tells him this happens every day:  “They handcuff any African American male who walks in the neighborhood, without probable cause, and they totally violate these young people by checking them from head to toe.”

Young people are psychologically harmed an “feel as if the police are there to hurt them,” Bahkit comments.  And he asks whether police are acting as part of a system that is trying to remove black people from the West Side in order to make room for development.

West Side left out of city foreclosure program

Last week Mayor Emanuel announced a $20 million program to rehab and reoccupy foreclosed homes in nine neighborhoods.  At AustinTalks, Otis Monroe points out that Austin and North Lawndale aren’t part of it – traditionally “left-out communities” that have been left out again.

Indeed, not a single West Side community is included in the program.

In Austin, the same day the city program was announced, South Austin Coalition was releasing a report calling on banks to fix the housing crisis and the related economic collapse by writing down underwater mortgages to market value (see Newstips).  That would free up $70 billion a year in consumer spending, creating a million jobs a year, according to the New Bottom Line Campaign.

Yesterday a New York Times editorial backed up the report’s contentions:  “The economy will not recover until housing recovers — and that won’t happen without a robust effort to curb foreclosures by modifying troubled mortgage loans.

Instead of pushing the banks to do what is needed, the Obama administration has basically urged them to do their best to help, mainly by reducing interest rates for troubled borrowers…

Reducing principal is a better solution than lowering interest rates, because it reduces payments and restores equity. Bankers resist, because it could force them to recognize losses they would prefer to delay. The administration has resisted, in part because principal reductions are seen as rewarding reckless borrowers.

But many of today’s troubled borrowers were not reckless. Rather, they are collateral damage in a bust that has wiped out equity and hammered jobs, turning what were reasonable debt levels into unbearable burdens.

The Times urges action by regulators and by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to ease the rewriting of underwater mortgages.  The paper calls on President Obama to include “strong support for principal reductions and easier refinancings” in a forthcoming announcement on jobs — otherwise he “will not get at the root of the problem.”

SAC and NBL don’t focus on government; they argue it’s up to banks to rewrite mortgages – and they owe it to us, having received trillions in bailouts and backstops.  And right now they’re sitting on unprecedented cash reserves.

SAC chose a foreclosed home in Austin now being rehabbed by the Westside Health Authority in the first phase of a $2.4 million community restoration fund, won from U.S. Bank by the Coalition to Save Community Banking after the takeover of Park National Bank.

That shows that communities can pressure banks to step up and take responsibility – though it will take a lot more pressure to get banks to take full responsibility for their role in the collapse, especially with a political establishment that treats banks with kid gloves.

In any case, it shows that community groups on the West Side are acting to save their neighborhoods from the ravages of foreclosure, in the face of historic neglect – and that they merit more attention from the mayor.

Black Chicago Divided

  • A 17-year-old West Sider who goes to the Gold Coast to intimidate and steal (“We can get good stuff down there,” he says; “You can’t get no iPods or nothing like that on the West Side”).
  • A black nationalist activist who advocates concealed carry legislation to allow the black community to defend itself against crime.

Along with a range of activists from Chicago’s black community, these are some of the voices in Salim Muwakkil’s “Black Chicago Divided,” discussing long-smoldering class and generational conflicts that are intensifying as conditions worsen in communities like North Lawndale.

With devastating unemployment and crime rates, North Lawndale faces an “emergency situation,” says Mark Carter of Voice of the Ex-Offender.  Carter focuses on confronting established civil rights and black political leaders.  “The death and destruction in our community could not have happened without the black leadership elite’s cooperation,” he says.

Among the topics raised are Mayor Emanuel’s police redeployment efforts – many in the black community say “the mayor is taking aggressive action only  because most of the victims are white,” while the areas most in need continue to be neglected – and the shortfalls in a federal program to direct HUD spending to low-income workers and business.  (WBEZ’s Natalie Moore recently reported on complaints about HUD’s Section 3 program.)

“Black Chicago Divided” is the first in a series of in-depth features by Muwakkil, a senior editor at In These Times, investigating the lives of those African-American youth who have borne the brunt of the Great Recession; their plight is particularly acute in de-industrializing, segregated Chicago, Muwakkil says.