Collaborative forms to make Chicago housing more affordable

A unique collaboration between a Christian liberal arts college, a community planning network leader, an entrepreneurial accelerator and fund, and our Faith and Finance team has formed to create a community embedded app to guide homeowners and renters in ways to make housing in redlined Chicago neighborhoods more affordable.

Anton Seals, a board member of South Shore Works a transformative community network and planning initiative on Chicago’s South Shore, will guide community engagement. Seals, who is deeply connected in non profit, activist and business circles in the city has his eye on two linked neighborhoods that are at risk of gentrification to start the research.

The research will be done by two classes from Trinity Christian College, one a freshman class doing directed research and an class of older students directing the younger students and doing field research. “As an institution, we want to be deeply embedded in the community so that we can keep learning what it is to be neighborly. One of our leading goals for ourselves and our students is that we would learn to celebrate gifts and address challenges in local and global contexts – and we want that to lead to practical solutions guided by scholarship and our faith. We want to help people remain in their homes. That’s our simple goal. We are excited to be part of this partnership and project, “ said Aaron Kuecker Trinity’s Provost.

We will be looking for information and methods that different community groups, housing counselors, and others are already using to make housing more affordable, and bundling them into a mobile app. “We will be taking an asset-based approach,” Seals said, “finding what’s already happening, working with existing groups, and putting the information together.” In our initial scan we found groups like Blacks in Green with ways to help residents cut their utility bills, while Sarah Hope Marshall, a local housing expert helps people take advantage of a little known mortgage subsidy. Marshall has signed up to be an advisor to the project.

When appropriate, new but already existing innovations from other places will be brought into the mix, like the micromortgage marketplace created by the Urban Institute, an online marketplace which makes home ownership possible for low and middle income people through enabling small $100,000 mortgages, which most banks won’t provide.

Or there could be an opening for an online service like Padsplit, which makes it easy for an older person to rent out a spare bedroom on a long term lease to a younger person, to bring in more income to enable them to hang onto their house as prices rise when new, gentrifying development that can displace existing residents starts to come in.

Rounding out the initial partnership is Rowan Richards, who leads Assemblize, an Accion startup accelerator working with under represented local entrepreneurs. Richards will be an advisor to the project and if the app becomes a reality he says there’s a place for it in his accelerator. Knowing that possibility exists will help guide the app design.

We are in discussion with a design firm that typically works with corporates that each year does a social good focused app, to bundle all these micro solutions into a comprehensive app that can be used by individuals and families and that neighborhood housing advocates can use to guide their clients. The app is part of an overarching project goal of enabling resilient home ownership in Chicago’s redlined neighborhoods. We are also in talks with prospective collaborators at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s design school about being part of the project and app design.

In the other part of the Chicago project, focused on entrepreneurship and business ownership to reduce the racial wealth gap, Trinity, and I will be working closely with Richards and his cohort of Assemblize entrepreneurs.

We are in negotiations to bring the Community Equity Fund we’ve created in my hometown of Asheville, North Carolina to Assemblize to enable it to fund entrepreneurs who need friends and family level funding who don’t have a rich aunt to give them a runway until they are ready for the local loan funds. Richards has worked with 4,000 entrepreneurs over the last five years but only gotten 40 funded, or one percent, because they fall in that gap.

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