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Black developers see opportunities in turning vacant lots into homes

empty lots homes
Posted at 11:09 AM, Jul 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-09 14:09:00-04

Blight, a plant disease, and how to get rid of it are issues cities are grappling with across the country.

“Seeing these properties that I used to drive by as a kid, used to see burning, burned down buildings, houses where people are selling drugs, you got homeless people staying at these properties," described Dajuan Robinson.

The emptiness of an abandoned lot can be filled with the problems that plague a community.

On the South Side of Chicago, Bonita Harrison sees a future.

"I see a family that can't be here. I see kids that can't play. That's what I see," the South Side native said.

She shares that vision with four other developers, all of whom grew up on the South Side.

“We all have an affinity to the South Side of Chicago and making it a better place to live," developer Sean Jones said.

The natives have backgrounds in contracting, flipping homes, and real estate. They came together to buy 13 vacant lots in the West Woodlawn neighborhood.

"Even though this is a 100 percent Black community, we own less than 30 percent of the real estate," Harrison said.

The group's vision is to build and sell affordable, multi-family homes.

"Significance to us is not just a dollar, it’s about the value of the neighborhood and the value we are bringing to the neighborhood," Robinson said.

To buy the land, they used the Cook County Land Bank, an organization started in the wake of the housing crisis to fight blight. The organization buys vacant properties and sells them to developers that can give them life again.

"They level the playing field for us. They stepped in and basically [have] been able to give us access to the properties that we, as smaller investors, would not have had," Jones explained.

This group believes the true impact of what will fill this land comes from the power of who is behind it.

“We’re looking at recycling the Black dollar, leaving an example in the presence for our youth and neighbors in the neighborhood. That this is for us, by us," Jones said.

Housing is a complicated issue in both cities and suburbs nationwide. In places like the South Side of Chicago, it can be hard to find the exact number of lots that are vacant. But for this group, who is dedicated to bringing positive change to where they call home, they say it’s not just about the structure you build, but the people who will call it their own.

“I mean, what it means to me personally, is that I made a change in not my neighborhood, but somebody’s life," Robinson said.