Federal grant gives troubled Woodlawn a ‘second chance’
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporteremail@example.com August 31, 2011 3:42PM
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush speaks about Woodlawn during news after U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan, (left) announces that Chicago's Woodlawn neighborhood on the south side, will gets $30.5 million to redevelop the distressed housing at Grove Parc Plaza, in the 6200 Block of S. Cottage Grove, Wednesday, August 31, 2011 | John H. White~Sun-Times
Updated: November 16, 2011 1:31AM
Hours after a drive-by shooting that left four teenagers wounded, Chicago’s Woodlawn community on Wednesday got a “second chance” at re-birth: a $30.5 million federal grant expected to seed a sweeping redevelopment.
Chicago is one of five cities nationwide to receive first-ever implementation grants awarded under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “Choice Neighborhoods Initiative.”
That’s President Obama’s plan to transform impoverished inner-city neighborhoods into thriving, mixed-income communities with safer streets, better schools and an array of shopping choices that provide an oasis in the “food desert.”
The Woodlawn grant was awarded to Preservation of Affordable Housing, a national non-profit that will demolish Grove Park Plaza, a 504-unit Section 8 complex built in the 1960’s in the 6100-to-6300 blocks of South Cottage Grove and replace it with a mixed-income community that features 95,000 square feet of retail and community space.
HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said Woodlawn stood out among 64 nationwide applicants because of the breadth of its proposal and the support from established institutions and community leaders.
At a Woodlawn news conference with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Donovan referred to Grove Park as “Ground Zero for all of the challenges” Woodlawn faces: crime; foreclosed homes and vacant lots; unemployment and failing schools.
He also talked about the drive-by shooting five blocks away that seriously wounded four teenagers sitting on a porch.
“We’re gonna bring the Police Department, the University of Chicago and a range of different organizations within this community together to fight the violence and the gangs that are eating at the core of this community,” Donovan said.
“And we have set a clear goal to cut crime in half in this neighborhood through the investment in this grant.”
Emanuel noted that his unprecedented agreement with the University of Chicago to speed zoning and permitting will pave the way for $1.5 billion in investments expected to include Metra station improvements.
“I don’t want to spread the peanut butter so thin you’re not getting any of the bang for your buck,” the mayor said.
“With this grant — built on the strong community input, with the University of Chicago, with the 53 additional [police] officers just to the 3rd District and things that we’re doing at CPS — it’s doubling down on these investments so you have a coordinated effort.”
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) noted that the people of Woodlawn have struggled against “enormous odds” for too long.
“Bad schools, bad neighbors, bad retail, constantly being bombarded each and every day on the news about how bad they were. Yet, in spite of all of that, these people in this community came together, embraced their common dreams and hopes — not just for themselves, but for their children,” Rush said.
The congressman then added a word of caution.
“Three or four decades ago, we had a similar ground breaking. New housing built in this community. But, as a resident of the Woodlawn community said many years ago — and I’m talking about [author] Lorraine Hansberry — it dried up ... like, ‘A Raisin in the Sun.’ We have to be determined that this second chance to make this community viable — that we don’t squander that opportunity.”