Revamped program helps homeowners on Chicago’s northwest side


Brian Boyle created a little paradise in the backyard. Her home is in the Dunning neighborhood on the northwest side of Chicago. There is a prefabricated patio, living room furniture, and a swing that his wife claims to be his own.

“We absolutely love it. We’re here all the time, ”Boyle said. He also obtained a new air conditioner and a new water heater thanks to a loan of $ 20,000 at an interest rate of 2% from the Northwest Home Equity Insurance Program, a group dedicated to the stabilization of neighborhoods which has transformed in recent years.

A few years ago, WBEZ investigated controversial tax program created over 30 years ago. It was designed to prevent white theft from the northwest side of Chicago. But that never happened, and the program ended up being a dormant organization with millions of dollars in unused money.

Housing advocates organized to change the way this money would be distributed. They were successful in changing a state law, but it took years for the law to come into effect. There is now a new Executive Director, a revamped Board of Directors and a new mission statement. The new program provides loans for repairs, maintenance, renovations or other improvements. There is no interest on loans up to $ 10,000.

“Whenever a friend of mine or someone in the neighborhood says they’re doing some kind of renovation, I always try to get them to do that. I haven’t found a fault with that yet, ”Boyle said.

Here’s how the program works: All homeowners in the designated district – which includes parts of the community areas of Dunning, Jefferson Park, Belmont Cragin, and Montclare – pay a small tax of around $ 8 per year that appears on their tax bills. land. This money goes into a fund and the owners voluntarily enroll in the equity program for a lump sum.

Previously, the program only gave money out as insurance, if there was a depreciation in the value of a home at the time of sale. The program was started in the 1980s out of fears that a new black mayor – Harold Washington – would cause property values ​​to fall in the predominantly white bungalow belt on the northwest side. That didn’t happen – and the fund swelled to over $ 9 million.

Ivy Ellis is the new executive director of the program. She said a dozen households have received loans under the program.

“A family wanted to redo their windows. And they were able to find these particular stained-glass windows and were able to replace their windows with the stained-glass windows. Some of the other changes I’ve seen are people who built their basements or bought a furnace, ”Ellis said. “There’s really no limit to what they can do to improve their home. The only thing you can’t do is tear down your house and build a new one.

Ivy Ellis is the new CEO of the Northwest Home Equity Assurance Program, a group dedicated to neighborhood stabilization. Natalie Moore / WBEZ

For years, the Northwest Side Housing Center has pressured state lawmakers to turn the insurance program into a resource that doesn’t waste taxpayer dollars.

“We are happy to see that the program is up and running and that it has helped people,” said James Rudyk, executive director of the center. But he says the program needs to do more than offer home improvement loans.

“What we have seen during the pandemic, and what we are still seeing, is that not only are people at risk of eviction and foreclosure, but there is also a real problem with people who can pay their property taxes. , especially the elderly, those with disabilities and people of color, ”Rudyk said.

So this summer, state lawmakers passed a bill to amend the Home Equity Assurance Act. The amended law allows loans to be granted to homeowners who are late in paying property taxes. This change takes effect in January.

Now the board of directors of the Northwest Home Equity Insurance Program must approve it. Ellis says they’re excited to move forward with the new change.

Nathalie Moore is a journalist in the Race, Class and Communities office of WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter at @natalieymoore.

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