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City of Chicago to Launch Large Lot Pilot Program Offering Englewood Residents $1 Properties

By: Katelyn Six, Section Editor for Bloc[k] Beat (six1@uic.edu)

For no more than the price of a package of gum, Chicago plans to sell several hundreds of the lots owed by the city. On Thursday, March 20, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the launch of the Large Lot Pilot Program, which is a housing land use approach developed for the Green Healthy Neighborhood Land Use Strategy for Englewood, West Englewood, Woodlawn, Washington Park and parts of New City, Fuller Park and Greater Grand Crossing. The program will allow homeowners and non-profit groups in the greater Englewood area to buy land owed by the city for $1 per parcel. So, what does this mean for local residents and for Chicago as a whole?

Large Lot Pilot Program Goals

Launched as part of the City’s Five Year Housing Plan, Mayor Emanuel hopes to transform unused, vacant lots into beautiful, more useful spaces. “By streamlining the process for providing City-owned vacant lots to residents, the Large Lot Program will help return empty land to productive use,” Mayor Emanuel said. “Residents and block clubs will use the land to expand the yards around their homes, to create gardens on their block, or for beautification, housing, or for other purposes.” The main objective is to empower the local residents of Englewood by ushering in more revenue for the community by enabling property owners in the area to sell the enhanced land. What’s more, the program is targeted at bestowing greater control to their alderman over empty land in the neighborhood.

Who Qualifies?

To qualify, applicants must already own property on the same block in the pilot area, be up-to-date on their property taxes, and have no outstanding fiscal indebtedness owed to the City. Those applicants who meet all of the requirements will be permitted to purchase a maximum of two parcels under the program. But applicants are not the only ones who need to meet certain requirements. It is mandatory that properties available for purchase are owned by the City, be empty lots, and have residential (R) zoning.

But…will the program actually work?

Dollar lot programs are not a novel idea, as almost identical initiatives have been popping up in other cities throughout the United States for years. In New York, a $1 property program was initiated to reconstruct the struggling areas in Harlem. A similar program launched in Gary, Indiana last August received mixed reviews as to whether or not it accomplished the goals it set out to and aided the struggling areas of the state. Jeffrey Lubell, director of housing initiatives for the public policy and business research firm ABT Associates, confessed that targeting the most afflicted neighborhoods is not always the most prosperous path to pursue, unless the scale of the program and city intercession and investment is considerable.

However, Clara Kirk, who manages a couple shelters for women in Englewood, explained that the expenditure of modifying a lot to become something more than a garden could be an issue. Why? Kirk’s answer: “That’s where the expense would occur and I’m not sure if people will have the money to do that. I know I don’t.” Understandably, many Chicagoans are worried that the only people who will truly benefit from the project will be housing contractors and investors after the Englewood properties are re-sold by applicants of the program.

What’s the overall impact on Chicago?

The first initiative promulgated by the City’s Five Year Housing Plan, the Large Lot Pilot Program has a lot riding on its shoulders. As a sort of kick-off effort, the Department of Planning & Development (DPD) land sale program is hoped to stimulate the Englewood economy, while concurrently beautifying it. The success or failure of this program will prove to be an important marker likely to impact the future housing projects yet to come.

For more information involving the Large Lot Program’s commencement date or details regarding the requirements and the application process, visit the City’s web site at www.cityofchicago.org/dpd.

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