In 1987, a man named Mark Ennis commuted through North Lawndale every day witnessing the devastating effects the abandoned properties was having on neighborhood youth and families. In an effort to help the neighborhood, he decided to buy a six-flat to create better housing for residents at affordable rates and using local youth as workers. More neighborhood residents took an interest and he soon was hiring others and rehabbing other properties through a nonprofit corporation he founded which became Breaking Ground. Now, Breaking Ground has built 77 new homes and has rehabbed an additional 63. Breaking Ground rehabilitated three blocks with at least a dozen homes each in North Lawndale with the help of the City of Chicago’s Affordable Housing Programs including its Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP). Breaking Ground is making a strong case for affordable housing and homeownership in North Lawndale.
Breaking Ground’s strategy of building and rehabbing multiple homes on a single block has helped to dramatically improve some of the most disinvested communities in Chicago. Prior to Breaking Ground building homes on the 1200 blocks of S. Spaulding, Sawyer and Christiana, neighborhood kids typically loitered on the vacant land where harm to the youth often followed. As soon as Breaking Ground started building new homes, homeowners moved in creating a safer environment. Joe Pruitt, Breaking Ground’s Project Manager, and Jeff Dennis, Executive Director, lived and worked on S. Spaulding for years and watched the neighborhood change. “Since people are now invested in the block, most homeowners are now incentivized to report crime”, they stated. “Block by block, North Lawndale is getting safer and cleaner.”
Chicago Community Loan Fund has been providing financing for Breaking Ground’s rehabilitation projects dating back to 2001 through the City’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program. CCLF has helped finance fifteen properties throughout the West Side of Chicago. Breaking Ground stated that CCLF was one of the more “flexible” and “hands on” lenders that they have worked with over the years. While Breaking Ground is still primarily focused in North Lawndale, they have expanded outside of the neighborhood into other neighborhoods and Cook County suburbs, including recently building in Austin.
Kimberly George moved into her newly-rehabbed Breaking Ground home in Austin in early January 2017. One of her family members recommended the City’s NSP and she was able to connect with Breaking Ground through a realtor.
Kimberly said, “If it weren’t for Breaking Ground, I would not have become a homeowner.” She mentioned that her home is much nicer than any of her previous residences and she now has the space needed for her family. Since the property is a two-flat, she is able to rent the downstairs apartment to help pay the bills and save money, which is helpful for her growing family. Kimberly is glowing in anticipation of her new baby which is expected this summer.
When asked what he would like Breaking Ground to be recognized for, Doug Welliver, Breaking Ground’s Chief Operating Officer replied, “While we do a lot of work on housing, we also work on education and have a neighborhood beautification business.” Doug said that Breaking Ground is a mission-based business and they create jobs, both through building and rehabbing properties, and through their Cleanstreet business. This business helps anyone who wants to work with them maintain employment and build character. They focus on hiring ex-offenders and low-income individuals to help them succeed in life.
Breaking Ground has turned abandoned properties and vacant land into homes for families on Chicago’s West Side. Breaking Ground decided to partner with CCLF and others to stabilize North Lawndale and other neighborhoods to create high quality housing. Breaking Ground has also created much needed jobs for hard to employ residents of the city. Their work has helped to change the perception of crime and lower return on investment among other perceived risks for the West Side of Chicago.