Health & Wellness Fellow Rachael Wilson travels to Planning Conference in New Orleans

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.

Fair Housing Act – 50 Years Later – Partner Breakfast Highlights Law Project & SPARCC Initiative

LUCHA’s board treasurer, Muhammad Gigani, graciously hosted a breakfast to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the  Fair Housing Act. We gathered partners in advocacy from across the city to reflect on the collective progress we have made thus far, including our Law Project and SPARCC Initiative, and to encourage one another as we plan for the next 50 years. 

Check out photos from our event here!

Advocate - Cultivation Event

Springtime! Seedlings planted for community garden with Lowell Elementary students

As the weather warms up and the sun begins to shine, our focus turns to all things green and growing. LUCHA hosted students from Lowell elementary school to plant seeds in egg cartons.
Residents, students, and staff planted tomato, string bean, cucumber, and pepper seeds together then cleaned out the garden beds. We’re crossing our fingers for continued warm weather so we can plant the seedlings into the garden when the Lowell students return in May! Check out photos of our Seed Planting with Lowell Elementary students!
Our gardens are a peaceful, vibrant outdoor space which provides residents with fresh produce for healthy cooking classes and hosts summer barbecues and Zumba classes.
Connect - Seed Planting

Home Repairs help 25-year resident remain in Humboldt Park

When Blanca Rodriguez moved to Humboldt Park 25 years ago, her home was strong and sturdy. Over time, drafty ceilings, faulty doors, and damaged floors all took their toll on her family’s quality of life.

“These problems I had with my house affected my life. For a while I worked; I held a daycare for children here, a business. But after a while I wasn’t working, and economically, I had to ask for help because I didn’t have enough income to repair the house,” remarked Blanca. Despite help from her husband, daughter, and granddaughters who reside with her, Blanca’s limited income didn’t stretch far enough to stay on top of routine repairs.

Neighbors told Blanca that LUCHA had assisted other homeowners with repairs in the neighborhood free of cost. After reaching out to LUCHA, Blanca was ecstatic to find that she qualified for the program. “I didn’t have to pay anything. They did all of the repairs and I’m very grateful,” exclaimed Blanca. Via the SARFS program, LUCHA insulated the roof, installed new flooring in the kitchen and bedroom, and replaced two doors for Blanca and her family. “For me, the repairs have worked out really well. I received a lot of help with this house for problems that I didn’t have the money to hire someone for. It’s been really good.”

Build - Blanca

Project Jumpstart Client receives home makeover via Humble Design

Connect - Client Home Makeover 1

This month, LUCHA partnered with Humble Design Chicago, a non-profit organization that helps families transition to stable housing by providing furnishing and design services that transform simple living spaces into welcoming homes.
LUCHA Supportive Services Counselor Emma Epstein, whose role includes providing counseling and rental assistance to those affected by domestic and sexual violence, helped a client transition from an unstable living situation into a new apartment.  Advocating for the promise of her client’s future in a stable home, Epstein connected her to Humble Design to help furnish and decorate the new space. Prior to the home makeover process, the space was nearly vacant, and the client was spending nights with her daughter on a mattress on the floor.
On the day of the home makeover, the client returned for the reveal of her transformed apartment and expressed tears of joy, exclaiming that she could not wait to host her family for a true housewarming gathering. Through LUCHA’s collaboration with Humble Design, the space is now a vibrant, beautiful home, featuring a king-sized bed for mom, a pink princess room for her daughter, a dining table for meals together, and even a betta fish, as per the daughter’s request.
LUCHA is honored to witness and participate in every client’s journey. Many congratulations to this family on their new home!
Humble Design provides gently-used items and furniture to transform vacant spaces into home spaces. For more information about Humble Design, visit their website.

LUCHA Celebrates 1st Move-In’s at Tierra Linda

Build - Key in Hands
After months of construction, LUCHA is excited to formally announce the completion of Tierra Linda’s first site and welcome its first tenants!  Tierra Linda is a sustainability-oriented affordable development, bridging affordable housing with green technology.
With staff on hand to welcome three families into their new apartments, the March move-in day was special for several reasons: it celebrated the increase of healthy, affordable housing stock on the Northwest side, and was the kickoff to welcoming the first of over 40 families who will come to know Tierra Linda as “home.” After a lease-singing at LUCHA’s main office, each family made their way over to the site, where all were greeted by Tierra Linda’s bright yellow doors and dazzling new interiors.
The move-in was particularly special for LUCHA’s Director of Affordable Housing, Charlene Andreas, who has been with the organization since 2010. Having joined the staff while LUCHA’s Borinquen Bella rehabilitation was underway, Andreas had yet to oversee the entire process of building development, including consultations, land acquisitions, and project development. “I’ve seen this project from Day 1 until now, leasing up tenants and move-ins, and I’ve been reflecting on all the hard work we did to get the support and funding for Tierra Linda.”
Senior Property Manager Aviance Dorsey noted that the goal now shifts from leasing and move-ins to ensuring that tenants thrive in their new homes. Andreas added that she wants to see tenants “become an integral part of these communities and involved with LUCHA’s gardens and Health & Wellness initiatives.”
For more pictures from move-in day, check out our photo album.

Housing Counseling Updates: March 2018

Educate - Leticia Vargas

LUCHA Welcomes New Housing Counselor

LUCHA is excited to welcome Leticia Vargas, Housing Counselor as the newest member of our staff. Vargas joins the staff at LUCHA’s Freddie Mac Borrower Help Center and will assist clients achieve financial sustainability and purchase their first homes by providing high-quality education and financial counseling.

Prior to starting at LUCHA, Vargas was with Enlace Chicago, where she mostly at Farragut Career Academy in administration to assist students as they transition from high school to their professional careers.

“I’m in the training stage right now, and will be for the next few months, but I’m excited to get started and work on client portfolios,” remarked Vargas.

Educate - Wintrust Mortgage

Wintrust – 2017 Partner of the Year

LUCHA would like to acknowledge Wintrust Mortgage as our 2017 Lender of the Year. Wintrust Mortgage served LUCHA’s clients in 2017 by providing $3.1 million in loan origination and $241,000 in down payment assistant to first-time homebuyers. Without lenders like Wintrust who make homeownership a reality for low-to-moderate income households, our housing counseling services couldn’t meet the needs of our clients.


Fighting Climate Change through Affordable Housing

 Advocate - Yale Climate Connections
Executive Director Juan Carlos Linares recently spoke about LUCHA’s latest affordable housing development Tierra Linda with Yale Climate Connections, a nonpartisan, multimedia service that offers programming focused on issues of climate change.
When a sleek, eco-friendly housing development pops up in an urban neighborhood, the natural inclination is to assume that the cost of living of those units would price out most other residents on the block. Linares shared that though Tierra Linda’s rental units are in fact new and eco-friendly, they won’t displace residents – they intend to do the opposite. Tierra Linda is innovative in that its goal is to offset the effects of gentrification (e.g. displacement) with the presence of affordable, energy-efficient homes, proving that these types of units are not an exclusive privilege for the wealthy. As such, these developments are a testament to the fact that everyone deserves a decent, healthy living space.
“We’re hoping that tenants save over $1,100 in annual utility savings, and that’s more than a month’s rent for any one of these units,” said Linares in reference to the Passive House, one of the twelve multi-family buildings that comprise Tierra Linda. Listen to the entire program.
For more on Tierra Linda and its impact along the 606 Trail, click here.

Housing Justice


In 2017, LUCHA convened like-minded community organizations to draft the Pilot Act for the Preservation of Affordable Housing, also known as the 606 Residential Area Preservation Ordinance, in order to stabilize the rapidly gentrifying Humboldt Park and Logan Square neighborhoods and keep long-term homeowners and renters in their homes. The Ordinance imposes higher demolition and development fees on developers who want to raze multifamily housing in favor of new construction single-family luxury homes along the 606 Trail’s western edge.

Since construction began on the trail in 2013, property values in adjacent residential neighborhoods increased by 48.2%. The Trail’s opening in 2015 further accelerated increases in rents and property values which has depleted affordable housing stock and replaced it with high end luxury units, resulting in an exodus of long-term low- to moderate-income households. Presently, the Ordinance is still in committee. Join us in supporting our community partner, the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, as they door knock throughout the neighborhood and host a Teach-in and Rally for Housing Justice to move this Ordinance forward.

LUCHA collaborates with Freddie Mac; integrates Earn Up tool into Housing Counseling

In collaboration with Freddie Mac, LUCHA integrated the Earn Up platform into our individualized housing counseling to help clients effectively manage their debt. By allowing people to manage all of their loans in one place, including mortgages; student, personal, and auto loans; and credit cards; Earn Up helps participants improve their overall financial health.
Interested in learning more about Earn Up or other financial tools? Contact our Freddie Mac Borrower Help Center at or 773-489-8484.
LUCHA is Growing!
We are looking for a passionate, experienced Housing Counselor to join our team – please spread the word!