A new “help desk” to boost community development on the south and west sides

Juan Calderon has been involved with the Puerto Rican Cultural Center for most of his life.

He was a graduate of the center’s childcare program and involved in its public health program. And he became a member of the Building Infrastructure for Human Services team – just as the center seeks to create Puerto Rico Town.

“Our framework is visualized on self-determination, self-actualization and autonomy,” Calderon, 35, said. “Part of our 10-year vision is to repopulate Puerto Ricans and Latinos who have left the area, whether because of gentrification and displacement or high cost.

The city of Puerto Rico would have four pillars: affordable housing, educational resources, health care, and a commercial corridor.

Now, thanks to a new $2.7 million initiative, the affordable housing pillar is about to come together.

The Puerto Rican Cultural Center was one of three organizations selected to share funding for the Neighborhood Developers Initiative, a new program run by Community Desk Chicago with funding from the McCormick Foundation, Chicago Community Trust, Polk Bros. Foundation and JPMorgan Chase.

The Desk was created by the Chicago Community Trust in 2019, in partnership with Boston Consulting Group’s Center for Illinois’ Future and JPMorgan Chase.

“It was really about looking at what are some of the systemic issues that are impacting the ability of communities to move forward with projects and build strong project pipelines…to bring in the infrastructure that’s needed. to these communities,” explained Ja’Net Defell, director of The Bureau.

In addition to the center, Teamwork Englewood and the South Shore Chamber Community Development Corp. have been selected for the program, which will provide each group with resources for development.

“We’ve spent a good portion of our time championing community projects that we believe create wealth for communities and also improve quality of life,” Defell said. “We were very intentional in targeting these types of projects, because generally these projects are riskier projects that often have very difficult times to access capital to move these projects forward.”

The office was also intentional to support communities of color, “neighbourhoods where there were potential concerns about gentrification,” Defell said. She added that these communities were also ripe with “opportunities to transform neighborhoods due to a big event.”

In South Shore, that “big event” is the Obama Presidential Center.

“The South Shore community is rich in assets,” said Tonya Trice, Executive Director of the Chamber. “With the announcement of the Obama Presidential Center less than a mile away, there are investors interested in the South Shore community, and we want to make sure we have a voice and a place to the table, so that what happens in the South Shore community reflects the image of residents and community stakeholders.

The two-year program will culminate in the creation of a community development project by each organization. Financial assistance will be distributed in phases; so far one planning grant has been disbursed.

Next steps include a financial assessment of the groups’ current abilities to achieve their goals, leading to an action plan for their community development projects and personalized learning programs around real estate.

Each group also has a consultant. Travel across the country will also be covered by The Desk so groups can learn from other community organizations.

The funds will enable Teamwork Englewood to build on its Englewood Quality of Life Initiative, a community plan that organizes and supports economic development efforts in the neighborhood.

“We want to sustain this momentum and contribute to the growth that can occur in Greater Englewood,” said Cecile DeMello, Executive Director of Teamwork Englewood. “We look forward to learning, bringing these inclinations to the community, and building in a community that desperately needs sustainable economic development.”

Sustainability is a key factor in the program, Depell said.

“So often in neighborhoods people think the solution is a big catalyst project,” she said. “We have to move beyond the catalytic project because in most cases, especially when you’re talking about black and Latino communities, you assume the market will take over, and it doesn’t always happen that way.”

For Calderon, The Desk offers the center a chance to serve its community.

“It’s our culture,” he said. “Often we had to patch resources together. This is a one-time capacity building program [that] continues to build on what we have done as an organization over the past 50 years.

Cheyanne M. Daniels is a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times viaReport for Americaa non-profit journalism program that aims to strengthen the newspaper’s coverage of communities on the South and West Sides.

Norma P. Rex