En­gle­wood RIS­ING

WHAT IS THIS PLACE? North­west­ern prof sees gold rush in his old neigh­bor­hood

Chicago Sun-Times - - REAL ESTATE - BY TRACEY ROBIN­SON-ENGLISH

Steven Rogers be­lieves there’s gold in the blighted En­gle­wood com­mu­nity on the South Side. Gold, you say? “Yes, gold,” he con­firmed, fig­u­ra­tively speak­ing, of course. “That’s why one has to be a vi­sion­ary to see it in the fer­tile land over there.”

Rogers, 50, an en­trepreneur­i­al­fi­nance pro­fes­sor at the Kel­logg Grad­u­ate School of Man­age­ment and the Me­dia Man­age­ment Cen­ter at North­west­ern Univer­sity, has built his rep­u­ta­tion on fore­cast­ing the next wave of op­por­tu­nity. He’s fol­low­ing the pulse on En­gle­wood’s trans­for­ma­tion.

“If I were smarter, I would have been buy­ing a lot sooner be­cause the com­mu­nity is about to be re­vi­tal­ized,” he said. “Some­thing ex­tra­or­di­nary is about to hap­pen.”

Part of that “some­thing ex­tra­or­di­nary” is the new $263 mil­lion Kennedy-King Col­lege cam­pus in the heart of the com­mu­nity from 62nd to 65th and Hal­sted streets. The 40-acre cam­pus, one of seven City Col­leges of Chicago, in­cludes a state-of-the art television and ra­dio sta­tion, the Wash­burn Culi­nary In­sti­tute, li­brary, theater, swim­ming pool, ath­letic field, day care cen­ter, science labs and em­ploy­ment cen­ter and fac­ulty of­fices. It also of­fers ca­reer pro­grams in busi­ness, com­puter tech­nol­ogy, auto tech­nol­ogy, culi­nary arts, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, graphic de­sign, den­tal hy­giene and nurs­ing, among many other pro­grams.

Some see the new KennedyK­ing Col­lege as the an­chor for dreams of the up­com­ing gen­er­a­tion. “If the com­mu­nity grabs hold to this brass ring called ed­u­ca­tion, they will be able to in­crease their earn­ing power and im­prove their qual­ity of life,” said Wayne Wat­son, chan­cel­lor of the City Col­leges of Chicago.

Wat­son grew up in En­gle­wood, and re­mem­bers when times were good. “En­gle­wood was the sec­ond busiest busi­ness dis­trict next to down­town,” he said. “We had Sears, Gold­blatt’s and Wieboldt’s de­part­ment stores and two the­aters — all gone. Mov­ing for­ward, the chal­lenge will be to help the En­gle­wood com­mu­nity re­store and reaf­firm its val­ues, crit­i­cal think­ing skills and cul­ture so that it can heal it­self and grow,” Wat­son said.

“Let us not buy into the news­pa­per head­lines and so­ci­ol­o­gists’ def­i­ni­tions that con­tinue to de­hu­man­ize this com­mu­nity,” Wat­son said. “The res­i­dents of En­gle­wood have a proud his­tory and de­serve a chance.”

Like­wise, Rogers’ en­thu­si­asm for En­gle­wood ex­tends be­yond ze­ro­ing in on the next real es­tate deal. It’s about a pas­sion and love for the com­mu­nity where he grew

up. In 1986, the mil­lion­aire-turned­pro­fes­sor pur­chased his mother’s old house near 60th and Ste­wart. He has been restor­ing it ever since, while buy­ing and hold­ing onto rel­a­tively cheap va­cant lots un­til the gold rush comes, so to speak.

“En­gle­wood left an im­pres­sion on me,” he said. “It’s how I de­fine my­self. As a kid, I saw folks get­ting up ev­ery day go­ing to work. It was a beau­ti­ful thing. I’d love to own the whole block that we lived on. I be­lieve in the com­mu­nity that much.”

Rogers en­vi­sions the En­gle­wood area be­com­ing a new, gen­tri­fied com­mu­nity of mostly mid­dle­class blacks, sim­i­lar to neigh­bor­hoods like Bronzevill­e and the South Loop. This new econ­omy, he said, prob­a­bly will re­place many poor res­i­dents, forced out by soar­ing prop­erty taxes and high-priced homes, al­though the city main­tains its com­mit­ment to build more af­ford­able hous­ing.

Asked about what hap­pens to those who might be dis­placed, Rogers said, “They will be go­ing mostly to the south sub­urbs with Sec­tion 8 vouch­ers or dis­persed among those who are do­ing well.”

If Rogers’ fore­cast is true, the ef­fect in En­gle­wood would fur­ther Mayor Da­ley’s agenda of mak­ing the walls of the neigh­bor­hood land­scape in­vis­i­ble be­tween the haves and have nots.

Strip away the bro­ken dreams, crime and ne­glect and you too might be­gin to see the valu­able nuggets of pos­si­bil­ity Rogers is talk­ing about in the re­birth of the mostly African-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity that is seven miles south of the Loop and spreads west from the Dan Ryan Expy. to about West­ern Av­enue and south to 75th Street.

At the mo­ment, En­gle­wood’s come­back looks painfully slow, and will take decades of work to re­vive the com­mu­nity struc­turally and spir­i­tu­ally with jobs, hous­ing, men­tal health and other so­cial ser­vices, qual­ity busi­nesses and ma­jor re­tail­ers, many ob­servers say.

“It’s a marathon in En­gle­wood, not a sprint,” said Ald. Fred­drenna Lyle (6th). “The com­mu­nity is com­ing back, but it is not ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the phe­nom­e­nal growth of a Bronzevill­e or a South Loop, for ob­vi­ous rea­sons.”

Lyle ticked off a few of those rea­sons, in­clud­ing the com­mu­nity’s high crime rate, longer dis­tance from the Loop, hous­ing that is pri­mar­ily made up of sin­gle­fam­ily homes and rental apart­ments and high per­cent­age of eco­nom­i­cally de­pressed res­i­dents. About 85 per­cent of res­i­dents are at the na­tional poverty level, fig­ures show.

To com­bat sys­temic prob­lems, City Hall is steer­ing a mas­sive $150 mil­lion plan to the South Side to build 550 sin­gle-fam­ily homes to re­store the com­mu­nity that has be­come a na­tional sym­bol of ur­ban de­cay. There are more than 5,000 empty parcels.

The re­vi­tal­iza­tion plan comes equipped with com­mu­nity re­sources. A new po­lice sta­tion is un­der con­struc­tion near 63rd and Bishop. Mas­sive tax sub­si­dies seek to lure de­vel­op­ers, for as lit­tle as $1 for a va­cant lot. Qual­i­fied first-time home buy­ers will find low-rate mort­gages and spe­cial lend­ing pro­grams — as much as $40,000 up-front cash avail­able to­ward a down pay­ment.

“In many ways, the city is con­nect­ing the dots to bring to­gether a larger de­vel­op­ment strat­egy,” said Ellen Sahli, act­ing com­mis­sioner for the De­part­ment of Hous­ing. “One thing alone won’t do it, but it’s the new homes in­vest­ments, the new Kennedy-King Col­lege in­vest­ment; it’s the rental hous­ing in­vest­ment — all th­ese things work­ing to­gether — to cre­ate the mar­ket that will be at­trac­tive to peo­ple.”

That strat­egy fea­tures eight af­ford­able hous­ing de­vel­op­ments — sin­gle and mul­ti­fam­ily — as well as rental apart­ments that have been com­pleted over the last seven years, Sahli said. Th­ese in­clude the 114-unit St. Bernard’s Place near 63rd and Yale Street and Phase II and Phase III of An­ti­och Homes near 65th and Nor­mal.

Four other hous­ing de­vel­op­ments in En­gle­wood and nearby ar­eas are sched­uled for com­ple­tion within five years. They are Re­birth of En­gle­wood, near 65th and Nor­mal; New Birth, near 67th and Sang­a­mon; the con­verted Strand Ho­tel with con­dos and artist lofts, at 63rd and Cot­tage Grove, and Phase II and Phase III of Columbia Pointe, near 63rd Street and Wood­lawn in Wood­lawn.

The price cap for many of the new af­ford­able homes for sale is $195,000.

“Th­ese are the first new homes in the com­mu­nity in decades,” Sahli said. “This is build­ing on a sub­stan­tial city in­vest­ment to pre­serve rental hous­ing and build af­ford­able for-sale hous­ing that can meet the in­come guide­lines to en­sure there is place in the com­mu­nity for ev­ery­one.”

Some com­mu­nity ac­tivists aren’t swal­low­ing the city’s af­ford­able hous­ing strat­egy whole. Leon Jack­son, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Team­works En­gle­wood, a non­profit ini­tia­tive pro­vid­ing tech­ni­cal sup­port to ex­ist­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions, draws this sce­nario:

“Let’s be pos­i­tive and take a work­ing fam­ily with two small chil­dren with a gross house­hold in­come of $30,000. They pur­chase a home for $165,000 with a 7.5 per­cent in­ter­est rate. Hous­ing typ­i­cally takes up one-third of a fam­ily’s house­hold in­come. Even with the in­cen­tives, the ques­tion be- comes: ‘How will they be able to live af­ter they pay the mort­gage?’”

To­day, the En­gle­wood com­mu­nity area in­cludes six wards — the 3rd, 6th, 15th, 16th, 17th and 20th — most of which con­sti­tutes the 1st Dis­trict of U.S. Con­gress­man Bobby Rush (D-Ill). Four of the six al­der­men are new: Pat Dowell (3rd), Toni Foulkes (15th), Joann Thompson (16th) and Wil­lie Cochran (20th). In­cum­bents are Fred­drenna Lyle (6th) and Latasha Thomas (17th).

At­tract­ing ma­jor re­tail­ers and, at the same time, tear­ing down neg­a­tive stereo­types about the com­mu­nity con­tinue to be among the most dif­fi­cult hur­dles to over­come, Lyle ac­knowl­edged.

“The fear that peo­ple have about the En­gle­wood name is gen­er­ated in part be­cause of the vi­o­lence that oc­curs. The other part is the me­dia’s at­ten­tion to the prob­lem. Years ago, the me­dia la­beled any area west of 22nd Street and the Dan Ryan — where some­one was shot — as En­gle­wood. It’s not all En­gle­wood. It’s taken a while to get the news me­dia to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween the dif­fer­ent neigh­bor­hoods.

“It af­fects our abil­ity to bring in re­tail de­vel­op­ment to the area,” she said. “But for the peo­ple who live and work in En­gle­wood, they have a dif­fer­ent per­cep­tion. They know that on many of th­ese blocks noth­ing bad has hap­pened. There are peo­ple who have been there for 30 and 40 years who would go no place else.”

Al­though change is slow, Lyle sees hope in some of the young pro­fes­sion­als ei­ther pur­chas­ing newly con­structed homes or re­hab­bing old houses as well as in the sprin­kling of whites and other racial groups choos­ing to live in the com­mu­nity.

“En­gle­wood will soon see the trend of con­tin­u­ous de­vel­op­ment and growth that other Chicago neigh­bor­hoods have seen,” said San­ina El­li­son, a bro­ker for Keller Wil­liams Re­alty Chicago Con­sult­ing Group. “There are a lot of de­vel­op­ments driv­ing the area.”

Dur­ing the first half of the 20th cen­tury, En­gle­wood ap­pealed to Ger­man, Swedish and Ir­ish im­mi­grants in search of a bet­ter life. They would later move out as blacks came from the South in search of the same dream. Over the last three decades, the com­mu­nity has dwin­dled from about 90,000 res­i­dents to about 40,000 res­i­dents, ac­cord­ing to U.S. Cen­sus fig­ures. Rates of crime, mor­tal­ity, un­em­ploy­ment and poor achieve­ment are among the city’s high­est.

Tracey Robin­son-English is a Chicago- based jour­nal­ist and se­nior me­dia con­sul­tant at North­west­ern Univer­sity's Me­dia Man­age­ment Cen­ter. Reach her at TraceyEngl­ish@aim.com.

BRIAN JACK­SON~SUN-TIMES PHO­TOS

Nice homes in the 100 block of West 65th show the prom­ise of the En­gle­wood area.

Johnny and Steve Rogers stand in front of 410 W. 60th Place. They grew up in the home, and now Steve has pur­chased the house.

The new Kennedy-King Col­lege is the heart of the com­mu­nity at 64th & Hal­sted.

A home in the 6600 block of South Har­vard in the En­gle­wood area.

BRIAN JACK­SON~SUN-TIMES PHO­TOS

Af­ter years of hard times, there are still plenty of well-main­tained homes in the En­gle­wood area. |

The in­ter­sec­tion of 60th and Prince­ton in the En­gle­wood neigh­bor­hood. DE­TACHED HOMES AT­TACHED HOMES

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