LUCHA’s Tierra Linda project reached several key milestones this month. 75% of the project is now complete and 8 of the the 12 buildings – 27 of 36 units – have certificates of occupancy. In fact, 16 units are already occupied by tenants and their families! The the triple-paned windows recently arrived for our 6-unit Passive House, the first of its kind in Illinois, and construction crews are currently installing the liquid-applied air barrier.
On June 20th, LUCHA, along with with EcoAchievers and Passive House Institute US, hosted a tour of the Passive House for nearly 100 industry partners. The 6-flat is a model of both sustainability and affordability, and will be habitable by this fall. Check out some photos from the tour and the project!
As June is National Homeownership Month, we want to thank the lenders, realtors, and banks, who partner with us so we may equip each of the households we serve with a comprehensive network of support as they navigate the ever evolving housing market in a challenging political climate. Check out the video below to see how this intricate web of relationships, resources, and resilience triumphs in the end!
“Working with these incredible people has given me a sense of purpose in my business, to give back to the communities I service…I’m blessed to be a part of LUCHA’s journey!” exclaimed Dalia Cajigas of RE/MAX Cityview.
With the warm weather and summer upon us, many non-profits find themselves in a time of transition as interns and volunteers are coming and going between school and travel. LUCHA is no exception. Under the supervision of Emma Epstein, LUCHA’s Supportive Service Counselor, interns serve by assisting with programming, building existing capacity to better serve clients, and build relationships with tenants. Andy DeBoer has interned at LUCHA since October 2017 as a graduate student at the University of Chicago and celebrated his last day on Thursday. Just her 3rd day on the job, Sandra Puebla joins LUCHA for the summer as an Americorps VISTA and will be with the organization for the next 10 weeks. We sat down with both Andy and Sandra to talk about LUCHA, their work, and the transitions ahead.
How did you learn about your respective positions and why did you want to work for a housing counseling agency in Humboldt Park?
S – I heard about this program a week before it started. My friend sent the job opening, and it was random! I live around here and housing is a big issue I’ve seen my whole, so this is something that hits home. I wanted to help my community.
A –The way my graduate program works is the field office sets up your internship for you. You fill out an interest form with things that you’re interested and they do their best to find an organization that best fits your profile. I wanted a connection with the Latino community here in Chicago. I had some experience in Latin America before this and speak Spanish. The field office identified that this would be a great opportunity to learn about the Puerto Rican community especially.
Andy, tell us about some of the work that you’ve been doing for the past 8 months.
A – I have been helping Emma with pretty much everything that her job entails! 80% of my work involves tenants here in the building and setting up programs. I also did a lot of research on services geared towards the population living here at LUCHA, which was primarily about services for older adults living in supportive housing. I also helped with the clients who are served through the domestic violence program.*
And Sandra, can you tell us about some of the work that you’re going to be doing?
S – I really want to focus on mental health and create programs to help tenants better care for themselves. I want to focus on education and self-care. It’s something that has impacted my life a lot and it’s something that many of my Latino and Black friends face, the stigma, and I want to change that…I want to change that [stigma] here in my community.
Andy, where have you seen the impact of your work?
A – I think what we’re trying to do in Resident Services is a build a community, and there were moments when a whole bunch of people would turn out for an event. To see people come together around a common theme, or even a meal, those were the moments when I felt like it was coming together. Emma has a really great vision for what this building can look like by creating an atmosphere of community and welcome.
*LUCHA’s Project Jumpstart is a transitional housing program that addresses the needs of low-income survivors of domestic violence.
Sandra Puebla is currently an undergraduate student at Loyola University studying Political Science & History. Andy DeBoer is a graduate student pursuing a Masters of Social Work at the University of Chicago.
EcoDistricts works to create just, resilient and sustainable cities, from the neighborhood up. What stood to you about their work and in what ways does that relate to our SPARCC Initiative?
JCL – “I think this work fits in perfectly with our SPARCC Initiative, in that our work has really been focused on racial equity, health outcomes, and climate resilience as it relates to transit-oriented development. As we laid out our half-mile radius from the Logan Square Station going on down south, we’re presented with so many opportunities to advance this work. It’s not just with the built environment, but also with the people we serve at the community level and with the policy thinkers who try to conceive of larger system solutions. One of the cool things about EcoDistricts is that it shows that we’re not alone; there’s a group of thinkers and practitioners that have already thought about this with us, or for us, and have together a framework for us to follow.”
With that in mind, what are some of the things you learned in seminars or from partners, or even by being in the physical space within Portland that you think we can transplant here to the city of Chicago?
JCL – “Though Portland itself is not perfect, I think they do a brilliant job of incorporating the natural environment with the built environment and we can do such a better job of that here…. I was also just amazed at some of the other groups at the table. Metro Health out of Cleveland is a Health System that is on a quest to partner with community groups to do their form of EcoDistricts. There was knowledge sharing between organizations doing “EcoDistricts-like” work to find solutions all over the country.”
What are you looking forward to as you jump back into work here in Chicago?
JCL – “….Chicagoans are everywhere. We find Chicagoans working at EcoDistricts, living in Portland and Seattle and all over the Pacific Northwest. The question is: why are they there and not here? One of the issues we see here is we don’t always make a space for everyone who wants to do well here. EcoDistricts is a way to use the energies of people who want to do good here, and put it into practice.
When Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in mid-September of 2017, chaos erupted throughout the island as structural damage, loss of clean water and electricity, and delayed disaster relief left many to fend for themselves. For Nashville and her family, Hurricane Maria meant the loss of the home Alexander, her husband, had built for her and their daughters Brianna and Aleysha. It meant gathering up what remained, and leaving the rest behind. It meant food rations and sleeping on air mattresses on her mother-in-law’s living room floor.
In the immediate aftermath of the Hurricane, Alexander and several men from the neighborhood walked miles to a nearby well to fetch water in 5 gallon buckets for their families and other residents of Quebrada de Agua, a neighborhood in Ponce. Day after day he did this knowing that disaster relief, despite them living in Puerto Rico’s 4th largest city, could be days or even weeks away. Once the family had moved into his mother’s house, which miraculously remained upright, Velazquez returned to Walmart where he worked, explaining the circumstances to his Human Resources representative. Nashville, Alexander and their family were among the lucky ones, despite losing their home.
Alexander reached out to his father who lived in Chicago. His dad immediately let them know they would have a place to stay if they could pay for their plane tickets to Chicago. They could do it. It would be tight, but they could make it work, Alexander assured his father. When Alexander returned to Human Resources to ask for a transfer to a Chicago location, the very same Human Resources representative reached into his pocket and handed Velazquez $60. “We’re going to help you with whatever you need,” he said, “Go and do some grocery shopping. Get what you need. We’ll pay for that too.” Alexander was moved to tears. Receiving the food – a tangible gift of life – was like a miracle. It was this gift and others that helped sustain the family before they boarded a plane in early November 2017.
It was frigid Chicago day when Aleysha and Brianna alighted the plane with their parents, but they were quickly energized when their grandfather greeted them warmly for the very first time at his apartment in the city. Upon arrival, their grandfather ushered the family to a cleared out living room with a few new toys. It wasn’t anything special, but for the first time in months they were assured clean water, regular meals, and a return to school – none of which they now took for granted. Their grandfather did his best to make room for 4 new houseguests and was unsure about the new living situation, but Alexander was overjoyed, “He said that he was sorry that it wasn’t much, but to us it was amazing.”
For Alexander, this wasn’t merely a new start but a homecoming. His parents relationship caused a great deal of upheaval when he was child, but he remembers his time growing up right off of Diversey & Campbell when he was brought to live in Chicago between 1995-1999. After his parents separated, Velazquez returned to Puerto Rico with his mother and had lived there ever since.
Upon arriving in Chicago, the family visited the Humboldt Park Resource Center where Hurricane Maria relief activities were underway with LUCHA and other community partners. They received clothing, vouchers, and access to resources, and even began to fill out an application for one of LUCHA’s evacuee-designated units but didn’t complete the application. With stable housing they felt it maybe wasn’t time just yet to uproot themselves once again.
Two months had passed, and it was becoming increasingly evident that a family of four occupying a living room was becoming a burden both for them and for Alexander’s father. They returned to the Humboldt Park Resource Center, completed their application with LUCHA, and within 3 days received a call from LUCHA’s Property Manager. One of the requirements to occupy one of the evacuee-designated units, or any of LUCHA’s units, is to provide proof of income. Alexander, unlike many other evacuees, had already been working at Walmart in Skokie for 2 months after successfully receiving a transfer in November. With proof of income, Alexander showed his pay stubs and before they knew it, the Velazquez family was moving into one of LUCHA’s units at Madres Unidas.
“When I was in Puerto Rico and I had lost everything, I broke down and I started screaming. I thought, ‘we’re done’. I started praying to God and calmed down. I talked with my wife and we believed it would be okay. This has absolutely been a blessing from God,” explained Velazquez.
The move hasn’t been without challenges; prior to Hurricane Maria, Brianna had just completed Kindergarten and was entering 1st grade, but the move to Chicago was a major hiccup in her education and she returned to Kindergarten. It hasn’t been all bad news, as she recently won student of the month and both her and her sister Aleysha, along with their mother Nashville, are slowly but surely learning English.
Madres Unidas, originally founded as a haven for vulnerable mothers in Humboldt Park, has become both a place of homecoming and a new beginning for the Velazquez family.
When Debra Lee first heard about LUCHA, she was initially skeptical that an organization could help her, a single mother, get rid of her debt and one day own her own home. Nearly 11 years after she first attended a First Time Homebuying Workshop, Debra’s life is a testament to the transformative power of perseverance and hard work. Today, Debra lives joyfully in the Beverly neighborhood on the South side having been a homeowner for 3 years after renting her entire life. With 2 bedrooms, one for herself and the other for her adult son who lives with a disability, Debra enjoys her warm neighbors and the beautiful flowers that line her backyard. It didn’t come easy; it took more than a decade to reduce her debt, an elongated search for the right home, and one-on-one counseling from LUCHA staff.
When Debra attended a First Time Homebuying Workshop in 2007, she was eager to live in her own home, but the debt she carried was a major obstacle. Deciding against taking on a mortgage with her outstanding debt, which would likely lead to foreclosure, Lee set aside the dream of being of homeowner for the time being. When she returned to LUCHA in 2014, she worked with the LUCHA staff and the City of Chicago tirelessly to see if something could be done, and in May of 2014, Debra’s debt was reduced down to $300, a more than manageable amount, which reenergized her to search for a home. She hoped it wouldn’t take too long as her family looked forward to owning their own home.
“One of the biggest challenges was finding a home with my budget. I was looking for the right neighborhood, and was searching for something with 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms because I live with my son,” remarked Debra. While still living with her son in an apartment, the same apartment for the past 17 years, she searched for nearly a year to find a home that fit her needs. When she did, additional obstacles stood in the way as logistical and contractual hiccups with the attorneys and realtor delayed the process an additional month.
After more than a decade of waiting, hoping, and searching tirelessly, closing day arrived on June 8th, 2015. She was grateful that LUCHA Law Project Manager Ana Margarita Irizarry, was present to assist with the closing. Prior to finalizing the paperwork, the daughter of the previous homeowner turned to Debra and said, “This is your home.” This moment made the long journey worth it all.
Debra is known around her new neighborhood for sweeping the sidewalk up and down her block. Neighbors repay her with dinner invites and occasionally surprise her by mowing her lawn. Three years later, Debra stands on her front porch and looks proudly up and down her block – there’s no place like home.
Last week, I attended the American Planning Association Conference in New Orleans. I got to reconnect with former classmates from UIUC’s Master of Urban Planning, and I attended many inspiring and informative sessions, and connected with peers from across the country. Below are some highlights of my trip:
The most impactful experience for me was attending a session on creating and measuring the effects of healthy affordable housing. The presentation was given by Krista Egger, the Senior Director of Initiatives at Enterprise Community Partners. Krista also worked to develop the criteria for Enterprise Green Communities’ Health Action Plan. LUCHA is one of nine other organizations that participated in the pilot process of creating a Health Action Plan, and my position as LUCHA’s Health and Wellness Fellow is based on implementing and measuring the action items listed in LUCHA’s Health Action Plan for Tierra Linda. It was great to be able to meet one of the people who made my position at LUCHA possible. We discussed Tierra Linda’s progress, as well as the challenges of measuring health outcomes of residents. It is hard to find the balance between getting impactful data and asking residents personal health related questions. I learned that Enterprise is working on a survey tool for measuring health outcomes that they will share with all participants in the pilot program. This will help inform the work I have done on a resident health outcome survey.
As the Health and Wellness Fellow, much of my time is spent engaging residents in health and wellness programming. I attended sessions focused on community engagement in order to sharpen my skills and become a better communicator. Presenters emphasised the importance of accomodating the needs of people you want to reach, and being clear about the ways in which community input will influence a plan. However, one of my main takeaways from these sessions was about conflict resolution. Presenters encouraged us to look beyond individual positions on a given issue and try to understand the values that inform these positions. By centering the conversation on values, opposing sides are better able to understand one another, and are more likely to reach a compromise.
Furthermore, I am excited to be partnering with LSNA this summer on a youth and planning education program. I attended a great session that focused on engaging communities in climate resilience planning. One of the presenters emphasized that youth who live in cities are already urban planning experts: their lived experiences and opinions about the built environment that they interact with every day should be used as “primary data” for planners who want to make more equitable places. For example, if youth are distressed because they see their friends and neighbors move away or get evicted due to rising rents, planners need to listen and prioritize practices and policies that combat displacement.
Many sessions at the conference centered on addressing the fact that displacement is plaguing cities across the country. Preserving and creating affordable housing was discussed as a crucial tactic in ensuring a “right to the city” for all. Although barriers such as funding and political support exist, it was energizing and exciting to know that so many planners are in tune with the need for affordable housing.