More than 1,500 people gathered at McCormick Place to see the Southwest Organizing Project win the Woods Fund of Chicago’s Power of Community Award. The occasion was LISC Chicago’s Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards (CNDA) 23rd annual ceremony. SWOP won for its Reclaiming Southwest Chicago campaign; an effort to organize and rebuild a target area in the Chicago Lawn community.
For more than a decade, the area between 59th ST. and 63rd ST., Rockwell and California had been targeted by unscrupulous real estate agents and mortgage brokers; selling and financing homes to families who could not afford their payments. At the same time, crime in the area increased and the schools struggled. Four years ago, this combination lead to 93 vacant buildings in the area.
Leaders at SWOP were alarmed, but rather than just complain or move away, they took action. Leaders came together to plan and then implement a strategy that would acquire and rehab houses, invest in the schools, intervene with anti-violence strategies, and build relationships in the community between people and between institutions.
The results are award winning. Today, there are just 21 vacant buildings in the community and this number should be reduced to zero by this time next year. Crime has been cut in half. The schools have shown continual improvement, and the institutions in the community are stronger by any measure.
To achieve this, SWOP worked with its member institutions like Neighborhood Housing Services, Morrill School, Greater Southwest Development Corporation, IMAN, and St. Rita’s Church.
An important part of the work was building partnerships with organizations outside the community. United Power for Action and Justice and SWOP worked together to bring in funding from the State and City. Brinshore Development formed a joint venture with SWOP to acquire and rehab houses in the community.
At a site visit in October, SWOP leaders outlined for the CNDA judges how the community came together to fight back. They talked about how they worked with a wide variety of people and organizations; people from different faith institutions, who spoke different languages, and from different backgrounds, who all shared a common goal to make the community stronger. The presentation and the work was obviously enough to sway the judges.
See video here.