Chicago awards grants to spur development near transit in disinvested neighborhoods

Passengers exit a blue line train at the Damen Blue Line stop in the Wicker Park neighborhood. Bill Healy / WBEZ News

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A bustling corridor at 79th Street and the Dan Ryan Expressway with housing and retail. A healthy corner store walking distance from the 95th Street Red Line. A food hall and walk-up ice cream window in East Garfield Park.

These are among the 11 projects the city of Chicago is funding through a pilot program promoting development around transit stations. Funding totals $160,000 in microgrants and technical assistance with each project receiving up to $20,000. The city is proposing $10 million more in its 2022 budget.

This is known as Transit-Oriented Development, or TOD, which places requirements on developments near CTA stops in an effort to make neighborhoods more vibrant, increase density and reduce parking spots. Incentivized developers like it because they save money by spending less on parking. But now the city is putting an “e” in front of TOD for equity.

“We finally have some real pilots, real bricks and mortar to demonstrate whether a policy plan that we talked about last time really means for real people,” said Roberto Requejo, executive director of Elevated Chicago, which promotes the potential around transit stops by focusing on racial equity and climate change resilience.

Too many Green Line and Red Line stops on the South and West sides are surrounded by vacant land while the Blue Line on the North Side is bustling with activity.

In 2018, WBEZ reported on how TOD leaves some residents behind along racial lines. More than 1,000 housing units had been approved near the California Avenue Blue Line station in Logan Square. Since 2000, the Latino population there has fallen by nearly 20,000. No longer a majority Latino community, as it was from 1980 to 2010, Logan Square in recent years has attracted thousands of young white professionals and scores of investments. The area bustles with cafes, bars and urban nightlife.

The city also analyzed TOD development between 2016 and 2019: Almost 90% of new TOD projects took place in the North Side, Northwest Side, downtown and around the West Loop. There was little activity near stations on the South and West sides.

Areas near rail stations eligible for TOD benefits — but that have not seen any TOD activity — have 40% more residents of color and 23% more low-income residents.

The policies driving these developments are not intentionally racist and classist, but they contribute to the entrenched racial and economic segregation in Chicago. A year ago, the city pledged to drive investment to projects beyond market-rate housing.

Dan Lurie, chief policy officer for Mayor Lori Lightfoot, said eTOD is about how the city uses its resources to reverse racial inequities.

“We mean really shifting how the power of systems like land use, real estate, transportation, and housing work in communities. Who is shaping those systems? Who’s benefiting from those investments and those policy choices?” Lurie said. “This eTOD project is expressly about confronting those systems, how they work in community, and building coalitions on the ground with communities, with people who are living in these neighborhoods.”

On West 95th Street, the nonprofit Endeleo Institute is behind a community-owned corner grocery store. It’s one of the eTOD awardees.

“We’re looking at community wealth building,” said executive director Melvin Thompson. “We’re looking to really get our local residents engaged. And we’re really excited about worker cooperatives. People don’t just want a $15-an-hour job. They want equity. They want ownership. They want buy in, and that’s what we’re trying to do along 95th Street, and that’s what we hope this corner store is the next iteration of an opportunity for community wealth building.”

Carter Temple CME Church owns land on 79th and State Streets and is planning to build affordable housing and retail near the L stop.

Rev. Joseph Gordon said “our vision to really make this sort of a hub for development and have this as perhaps the first major project in that area to welcome persons as they come into the Chatham area, just off of 79th there so that they know there’s revitalization happening.”

The projects are:

  • Briget’s Bodega, 125 W. 95th St., Roseland
  • Coalition Food Hall, 2800 W. Madison St., East Garfield Park
  • Homan-Harrison Mixed-Use Development Project, 600 S. Homan Ave., East Garfield Park
  • Equity Arts Project, 1500 N. Milwaukee Ave., West Town
  • Food Matters, 435 E. 43rd St., Grand Boulevard
  • Gateway 79, State and 79th streets, Chatham
  • Overton Center of Excellence, 221 E. 49th St., Washington Park
  • Albany Park Plaza, 3300 W. Lawrence Ave., Albany Park
  • Cross the Street: Art on Clark, Rogers Park
  • Emmett Street Apartments Public Art and Placemaking, 2614 N. Emmett St., Logan Square
  • 35th/Archer Orange Line ETOD Vision Project, 3528 S. Leavitt St., McKinley Park

Natalie Moore is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. You can follow her on Twitter at @natalieymoore.