Saving graystones, building homes in North Lawndale

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The Chicago Tribune made North Lawndale the poster neighborhood for urban blight back in 1985 with its “American Millstone” series, and despite at least one high-profile development, Homan Square, the West Side community’s reputation hasn’t improved much (homeownership rate hovers around 30 percent, median income around $24,700).

But a couple of new efforts aimed at protecting historic housing and building new homes are positive steps. New West Realty recently broke ground on a sales center for Heritage Homes of West Village, a 102-unit development of townhouses and condos at the corner of Polk Street and Kedzie Avenue. And taking a cue from the Historic Chicago Bungalow Initiative, the city has pledged $1 million for the “Historic Chicago Greystone Initiative.” The city’s Department of Housing and Department of Planning and Development will work with Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago on the program to rehab and preserve North Lawndale’s roughly 2,000 graystones (that’s apparently more than exist any other city neighborhood).

The Heritage Homes will have 102 units, a mix of townhouses and condos. About 25 of the units are priced in the low $100s through city subsidies. Market-rate three-bedroom condos are priced from the $230s and three-bedroom townhomes from the $320s. How will condos sell in Lawndale? According to New West, around a quarter of the market-rate condos have sold, and there is a waiting list of qualified applicants for the affordable homes.

But in Lawndale, each step forward also highlights how far the neighborhood has to go. The Chicago Department of Housing, for instance, is overseeing the rehab of 118 housing units that were part of a cluster of buildings raided by the FBI and local police, who said gang leaders were operating a massive drug ring from the 1800 block of South Karlov, an area known as “The Square.”

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