“The answer to our prayers.”
That’s how Miriam Rodriguez describes her new and affordable second-floor apartment at 3230 W. Armitage Ave. in the Logan Square neighborhood.
Miriam Rodriguez loves her new affordable apartment at 3230 W. Armitage Ave. and so does the rest of her family.
Her sentiment parallels the sigh of relief expressed by Joy Aruguete when asked how it feels to have completed, finally, the Zapata Apartments after seven anxious years of struggle and hard work.
“It’s been a long road,” said the executive director of Bickerdike Redevelopment Corp. “But when you’re doing the right thing, you know success will be there in the end.”
Then again, not everyone thought it was the “right thing.”
A small group of not-in-my-backyard landowners lobbied hard, and even filed a lawsuit, to stop construction of Zapata’s 61 subsidized apartments divided among four sites near the intersection of Armitage and Kimball avenues. There were challenges in securing a needed zoning change. The project’s multi-tiered “lasagna” included complicated TIF financing.
But Bickerdike stuck with it, even as months turned to years and carrying costs on the four acquired sites – interest payments, property taxes, security, maintenance, etc. – strained BRC’s ledger. It helped that the Logan Square Neighborhood Assn. (LSNA) also stood by the effort. Of course they did. Strengthening that frayed stretch of Armitage Avenue and easing the rent squeeze on working families was a key element in both groups’ quality-of-life plans completed in 2005 as part of LISC Chicago’s New Communities Program. The Logan Square plan called for a “school-to-school” strategy that would fill vacant lots with housing for families sending children to four nearby schools.
The four new buildings comprising the Zapata Apartments were designed to fill vacant lots such as this on Armitage Avenue in the Logan Square neighborhood.
Juan Francisco Hernandez
“They went door-to-door in support of this project,” said Aruguete of the way LSNA organizers canvassed the neighborhood to dispel the “misinformation” spread by NIMBYs opposed to subsidized housing. “LSNA was instrumental from the beginning.”
Now that all 61 units are completed and leased, the two charter members of what’s now called LISC’s New Communities Network plan a gala dedication ceremony for 3 p.m. Thursday, April 24 at the largest of the buildings, at the southeast corner of Armitage and St. Louis avenues.
Good roof overhead
A phalanx of neighborhood leaders and elected officials are sure to be there, but none will be busier, or happier, than Miriam Rodriguez. The 62-year-old mother of three grown boys will be helping serve the food … and telling anyone who’ll listen what a blessing Zapata Apartments has been for her, her disabled husband, Felipe, and indeed, the entire neighborhood.
“Everything is so modern,” she gushed recently to a visitor while showing off her kitchen console, over which she has hung a hand-lettered version of “The Kitchen Prayer.” An asthmatic, Miriam said she most appreciates her handsome brick building’s air conditioning, its Green Certified energy savings, its smoke-free rule and its proximity to a mercado on Armitage where she can get fresh vegetables and some Puerto Rican favorites.
Here's 3230 W. Armitage, where Miriam Rodriguez lives.
“Having a good roof over your head is everything,” Rodriguez said, especially at a rent she and Felipe can handle on their Social Security income.
Benefits to the neighborhood have been manifold. Bickerdike’s own Humboldt Construction Company was general contractor and took on 87 laborers and skilled tradesmen – mostly from the neighborhood – to do the work. BRC figures the project generated $2.5 million in tax revenues and $6 million in spending for the local economy.
1955 N. St. Louis
LISC Chicago was an early backer with a total of $4.6 million in financing for pre-development costs, site prep and construction. BMO Harris handled construction financing with equity funding via federal tax credits from the National Equity Fund. The city provided a $4.6 million TIF grant and the state pitched in almost $1 million.
The $26 million project, aimed at working families with incomes between $20,000 and $44,000, is spread across four locations along the Logan Square/Humboldt Park border: 3230 W. Armitage (12 units); 1955 N. St. Louis Ave. (30 units); 3503 W. Armitage Ave. (3 units); and 3734 W. Cortland St. (16 units).
“The most impressive thing,” said Susana Vasquez, LISC Chicago’s executive director, “is that they (Bickerdike and LSNA) strategically set out to strengthen both the Armitage corridor and their stock of affordable housing. They stuck to their plan, no matter what, and they made it happen.”
More information: BRC’s Libby Juliá-Vázquez 773-278-5669 ljvazquez@Bickerdike.org
The United States has much ground to cover to ensure that all kids — especially children of color — are positioned to thrive, according to a new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The foundation’s Race for Results Index measures how well children of every race are being prepared for economic success according to 12 indicators (such as enrollment in early education programs, high school graduation, and family poverty rates). This report and the recently launched diversitydatakids.org interactive online data set of child well-being indicators from Brandeis University provide valuable tools to track how well the nation is doing to prepare the next generation of innovators, leaders, workers, and entrepreneurs.
The annual National Interagency Community Reinvestment Conference (NICRC) was held in Chicago March 31-April 2nd. The Chicago Federal Reserve Bank, one of conference hosts organized tours of various communities. Englewood was chosen as one of the communities to be visited for the community development tour.
The conference is aimed toward CRA professionals-bankers, financiers, government officials, and non profits. The basis of their work is the CRA (Community Reinvestment Act) which requires financial institutions to do community development.
- Innovations in community development policy and practice
- CRA examination training
- National Community Development Lending School
According to Rosalind Moore, Interim Executive Director of Teamwork Englewood, representatives from organizations in Englewood served as tour guide speakers. They included Saul Klibanow of Teamwork Englewood, Sonya Harper of Growing Home, Debbie Blair- on behalf of Ald. JoAnn Thompson and Ald. Willie Cochran.
A few of the tour sites in Englewood community included St. Bernard Hospital, Kennedy King, Kusanya Cafe and Growing Home.
Participants from the tour expressed happiness to see quality homes in Englewood, the coming together of organizations and businesses in Englewood. The ultimate goal is to spur economic development in Englewood, accoording to Ms. Moore.
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In the past week, the state committed to funding a variety of important biking and pedestrian projects through the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program (ITEP). The 71 projects are receiving support that totals $52.7 million.
Unfortunately, a new proposal to expand the Divvy bike sharing program in a couple of nearby suburbs and some Chicago neighborhoods was not included.
ITEP is federally funded and supports bike paths, walking trails, transit improvements, historic preservation and streetscape beautification projects.
Here are some of our favorite projects. Here's the complete list.
- Aurora: Kautz Rd. Multi-Use Path extension
- Berwyn: East Ave. bike plan implementation, sidewalk improvements, citywide bike route signs, Berwyn Depot District beautification
- Countryside: Brainard Ave. Multi-Use Path
- Des Plaines: U.S. Route 12 (Rand Rd.) Sidepath
- Du Page Co. Forest Preserves: County Farm Rd. bridge and trail improvements connecting Hawk Hollow and Mallard Lake Forest Preserves
- Du Page Co. Forest Preserves: West Branch Regional Trail – Winfield Mounds to West DuPage Woods.
- Evanston: Sheridan Rd./Chicago Ave. Bike Path
- Glenview: Shermer Rd. Bike Path
- Highland Park: Robert McClory Trail paving, Bike-Walk 2030 sharrows and signage
- Lakemoor: Wegner-Darrell Pedestrian/Bike Path
- Northbrook: On-street bicycle signs and pavement markings
- Prospect Heights: Willow Rd. sidewalk improvement project
- Rolling Meadows: Euclid Ave. Bike Path connecting to the Salt Creek Trail
- Skokie: Howard St. Multi-Use Trail
- University City: multi-use trail
- Western Springs: Bemis Woods Bike Path extension to Wolf Rd. and Ogden Ave.
A proposal to expand the Divvy bike sharing network to the suburbs of Oak Park and Evanston, and the Chicago communities of Rogers Park, West Rogers Park, Austin and Garfield Park was not approved. Up to 66 bike share stations would have been added in these new service areas, including the first suburban locations.
Oak Park and Evanston border Chicago, which creates the opportunity for Divvy trips between Chicago and these communities. Moreover, both suburbs have high densities and ample transit stations, which are key ingredients for generating bike share trips that occur solely within each suburb, such as biking between neighborhoods and train stations or the local library.
Despite the setback, we think this expansion will eventually happen. The communities are already exploring other funding options.
We are excited to announce that Housing Center Executive Director, Rob Breymaier, has been confirmed to be on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry show this Sunday! He will discuss the importance of integration in our nation’s communities. We are thrilled that Rob has been invited to speak to a national audience on this vital issue! Be sure to tune in Sunday morning from 9a – 11a!
Sunday, April 20
9:00a – 11:00a CST
Ivan and Sandra Silva of South San Francisco paid off debts and bought government bonds with a $6,000 federal tax refund they received last year thanks to a tax credit for low- and moderate-wage workers. The Silvas, who have four grown children, serve to illustrate how progressive tax code reforms can help all people, including low-income people of color, save and build the assets that are essential for upward mobility.
“We saved because you never know what can happen,” said Ivan Silva, an airline baggage handler who immigrated to the United States from Nicaragua. His wife is a home caregiver and an immigrant from El Salvador. Together they earn less than $50,000 a year. “Our savings is not for ourselves but for whichever one of our children needs anything,” he said.
A new national initiative is calling for a more inclusive and equitable tax code — one that provides fair benefits for all. Led by a network of grantmakers, the Tax Policy Project is pulling together asset-building and equity advocates, researchers and tax experts, and organizations with deep roots in communities of color, including PolicyLink, to push for changes in a tax code that has become a driving force behind the nation’s soaring inequality.
Last year, more than half of the nearly $1 trillion that the federal government spent on tax benefits for households went to the wealthiest fifth of the country. The benefits — written into the tax code as deductions, exclusions, credits, and preferential rates — subsidize higher-income households to build wealth, while offering few opportunities for lower-income households, disproportionately of color. build the long-term financial security of all American families and contribute to economic stability and growth.
Most of these benefits are designed to advance worthy goals such as buying a home, encouraging college education, or supporting secure retirement. In other words, these benefits should build the long-term financial security of all American families and contribute to economic stability and growth.
But as structured, many tax benefits are out of reach for the people who need them most. If families do not own homes — and fewer than half of all households of color do — they are cut off from the benefits of home mortgage and property tax deductions. If workers do not have access to an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan — and only 40 percent to 50 percent of employees of color do — they cannot take advantage of tax benefits to encourage retirement savings.
And if low-wage workers lack access to high-quality tax assistance, they often cannot take advantage of the few benefits designed specifically to help them, including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).
That’s what happened to Ivan and Sandra Silva. For years they paid a commercial tax preparer who never told them about the credit. They learned about it only after they turned to the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) in San Francisco, a community-based organization that offers free tax assistance and financial services as part of a comprehensive approach to economic justice and neighborhood economic development in the Mission district and other low-wealth neighborhoods.
Federal policies and investments can create an equitable tax code that helps all taxpayers to invest in themselves, their children, and their communities. Here are six policy changes prioritized by the Tax Policy Project to make taxes work for low-income families:
- Expand tax incentives that are accessible to working families. In 2012, the EITC lifted 6.5 million people out of poverty. But millions of families may lose their benefits if improvements passed by Congress in 2009 expire in 2017. These improvements must be made permanent, and the benefits must be expanded to more people, especially low-income workers who aren’t raising children. Take a look at our infographic below to learn more about federal initiatives to expand the EITC.
- Replace current home mortgage deduction with tax savings for all low-income households. Tax incentives for homeownership cost the federal government almost $200 billion in 2013, but 70 percent of these tax benefits went to the wealthiest 20 percent of households and almost nothing to the bottom 40 percent. The majority of people of color don’t benefit because they don’t own a home or they don’t itemize on their tax returns. Turning the home mortgage deduction into a tax credit would make it more equitable because households could claim it even if they don’t itemize. But this doesn’t address the issue that a mortgage credit still encourages families to take on debt rather than build wealth through homeownership. Several policies targeted to building wealth for low-income households are gaining attention; read about them here. A comparable credit for renters is also needed to make sure those who can’t afford to buy a home aren’t locked out of receiving wealth-building tax benefits.
- Target higher education tax incentives to lower-income families. Higher education offers a critical pathway to prosperity for youth by increasing their earning potential. That’s why tax code provisions help families save and pay for college. These tax benefits — not Pell grants — are the largest form of federal student aid, and they go mostly to higher-income students. One exception is the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), which is accessible to more low- and moderate-income households. Tax code provisions that disproportionately benefit wealthier households should be streamlined, and the savings used to make the AOTC fully refundable and permanent, in order to reach more youth in need.
- Support children’s savings accounts. Research shows that children with savings in their name are much more likely to succeed, particularly children of color and children from low-income families. One promising approach to supporting child savings is the ASPIRE Act, which has been proposed in prior sessions of Congress with bipartisan support. The Act would seed a savings account for every newborn child, providing an initial deposit and progressively matching contributions. Savings would grow tax free and could be used for post-secondary education, homeownership, or retirement. Cities, counties, and states are already taking the initiative; MEDA, the community-based agency in San Francisco, has partnered with the mayor’s office to provide accounts for every child in the city, and Cuyahoga County, Ohio, has launched universal accounts, as well.
- Make retirement savings available to more workers. Millions of American workers are headed toward poverty in retirement because their employers don’t offer retirement plans and they earn too little to save through Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs). Automatic IRAs are one solution. The basic idea is to require all employers who don’t offer a retirement plan for their employees to set up an automatic IRA savings plan that would allow people to access tax benefits for retirement savings. Several states, including California, are pursuing similar approaches, and it has been proposed by federal legislators and the Obama administration.
- Provide tax incentives for flexible savings. Families need savings that can be easily accessed to handle financial emergencies — a broken-down car, an unusually high heating bill, or the death of a family member — and prevent a downward financial spiral. These sort of “flexible” savings are particularly important for households of color, who are unlikely to have any resources to address short-term emergencies. The Financial Security Credit Act of 2013 offers lower-income households a refundable tax credit (like the EITC) if they deposit their tax refund into an eligible savings account. If passed, it would help more families weather short-term financial crises and save for longer-term investments.
In addition to these tax reforms, Congress should pass the Voluntary Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Act, which would extend a program that supports organizations like MEDA to provide reliable, timely tax preparation services at no cost to low-income households, enabling millions to claim the benefits to which they are entitled.
To keep abreast of these initiatives and other policy developments, check out the Tax Policy Project website and read about how closing the racial wealth gap will help grow the economy in the previous issue of the America’s Tomorrow newsletter.