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Action Now: Don’t demolish – rebuild

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A community group is taking issue with Mayor Emanuel’s new plan to demolish vacant buildings that serve as gang havens.

Action Now [2] is proposing an alternative strategy:  use the Chicago Infrastructure Trust to finance rehab of the buildings into affordable rentals.

Emanuel says [3] his “message to gang members” is that “you will no longer find shelter in the city of Chicago.”

But according to Michelle Young, president of Action Now, “He’s really saying that working families will no longer find shelter in the city of Chicago.”

On Monday, Emanuel said the city has identified 200 buildings for possible demolition due to their “location in high-crime areas.”  His initiative covers Englewood, Lawndale, Grand Crossing, Garfield Park, and Little Village.

“All over the city there are blocks full of vacant homes,” Young said in a release. “Our neighborhoods have become ghost towns. The mayor is going in the wrong direction.

“The solution to the vacant property problem is not creating more destruction by demolishing buildings,” she said. “We must rebuild our communities by transforming vacant buildings into homes for families once again.”

Last month Action Now unveiled its Rebuild Chicago [4] plan, under which banks would temporarily deed vacant homes over to the city and the infrastructure trust would partner with private developers to rehab them.

A detailed scenario shows that a typical two-flat in Aurburn-Gresham, costing about $131,000, could be rehabbed for $32,000 and each unit rented out for $600 a month.  After accounting for property management, upkeep and taxes, the infrastructure trust and the developer would share healthy profits.

After ten years the property would be returned to the bank to be sold – hopefully in a much stronger market, especially if the downward drag of vacant, foreclosed properties can be mitigated.

The program would also create jobs in communities where unemployment is a huge problem.

“Taxpayer money should not be used to demolish,” said Katelyn Johnson of the Action Now Institute. “It should be used to transform Chicago’s neighborhoods into the vibrant centers they once were.