Before RPDC purchased 700-702 Monroe, it was a troubled building—at the top of the police 9-1-1 calls list. Gangs dealing drugs had taken over the basement, with accompanying violence and turmoil. Other residents and neighbors felt threatened. After a shooting in front of the building, the city and RPDC quickly collaborated to utilize a Mayor’s Fund loan as down payment to purchase the 12-unit building, and named it “House of Peace.” All residents were interviewed and leases for two units were not renewed. Others expressed interest in working together for needed changes and toward cooperative ownership.
Enough funds were eventually secured to begin renovating. Local youths were hired to move and relocate three units at a time, so that vacated units could be upgraded. Chicago Mutual Housing Network trained residents in housing co-op management. Each member paid $2,500 to buy one of 12 shares in a limited-equity co-operative. By 1999 enough residents had completed their membership requirements to officially establish the House of Peace Coop which then elected its own oversight board. As project sponsor, RPDC retains one seat on the board with veto power over key issues.
The co-op has been financially healthy. The monthly assessment for a two-bedroom apartment has only seen modest increases and now stands at $755, while rents in the neighborhood have continued to climb. Over time the co-op has been able to set aside money for improvements (back fence, rear stairway enclosures, upgrade of basement meeting rooms, all windows replaced with new double-glazed vinyl clad product). Annual co-op elections have produced energetic board members with pride in leadership.
RPDC has invested much time to train and support co-op members in self-government; it has paid off. Despite ongoing challenges, our first project has remained a self-supported “house of peace.”
RPDC acquired this two-flat building when purchasing the adjacent House of Peace, because gang members had access to it as well. Dedicated to low-income rental, 648 Custer has proven to be a financial challenge. Purchased without sufficient subsidy, and requiring significant renovations over the first years, it has operated at a deficit for most years of RPDC’s ownership. On February 26, 2009, the 648 Custer building was sold.
A twenty-five unit apartment building with low-income affordable rental units—nineteen with two bedrooms and six with three bedrooms at 707-713 Seward.
This large rental property had become a hangout for disorderly youth and drug dealing on the street. The owner wanted to get free from a building with six pages of code violations, and accepted RPDC’s bid of $975,000 because he valued his long-term relationship with current tenants. Other similar apartments in the area were selling to for-profit condo developers who would have displaced all the residents.
We invited the residents to a dinner at which we explained RPDC and our mission. Those willing to bear with the needed renovations could stay, if they continue to pay their rent, obey the law and respect neighbors. The vision of a peaceful, renovated building with no jump in rent was proposed; meanwhile, we informed three households that we would not be renewing their leases because of illegal activity. RPDC staff lived under threats for a time, and the building was vandalized several times experiencing a turn-around. We continued to build personal relationships with all the families and hired local young people to assist in trash clean-up days and moves. The general contractor agreed to employ residents and neighbors for the renovation project. The residents began to support and identify with the makeover.
In 2002 we conducted a satisfaction survey which confirmed that tenants felt secure enough with their neighbors and environment that they would benefit from a common laundry facility. We celebrated the completed laundry facility (four washers and four dryers) with an open house. The survey also gave high marks to Reba Apartments Management, which maintains and repairs the building. Currently, 707-713 Seward is fully rented, as residence in this 25-unit building grows in stability and neighborliness.
Five affordable mixed-income condos at 836-38 Elmwood.
In December 2002 Reba Place Fellowship sold 836-38 Elmwood to RPDC and financed the building at 0% interest until the five condo units were sold. An additional construction loan was acquired to support renovations costs.
Three of the existing four units were occupied by tenants who all wanted to buy into the condominium development. As units were finished, folks progressively moved into their new homes. The City of Evanston granted a zoning variance to develop a fifth (garden) unit in the 838 Elmwood basement. The City awarded a HOME Fund grant of $180,000 to assure affordability for three low-income units for at least 15 years (remaining two units sold at market rate).
The condo buyers took RPDC-led workshops on
The Old Elmwood Condominium Association began operation on July 1, 2005.
Evanston real estate values have escalated to the point that few moderate (much less low) income families can afford to own a home. Increasingly, apartments are being converted into pricey condominiums, thereby displacing tenants and leaving them few options. Upon learning that 602 Mulford was on the market, RPDC made plans to purchase and convert its twelve units into affordable condominiums. It is located in a changing neighborhood across from Elks Park and alongside the Metra train embankment.
In February 2005 the City of Evanston granted RPDC $600,000 in HOME Program funds to assist in financing the purchase of 602 Mulford. The following June the City required a fire-prevention sprinkler system in each unit, entailing significant additional expenses (e.g., a larger water service line). It was also determined that a new roof was needed, so funding was sought from FHLB and IHDA to cover these unforeseen expenses with additional assistance from the City. In 2007 the City made an additional grant of $80,000 to assist with city-mandated improvements. All units have been renovated with new kitchens, fire-suppression sprinkler systems, and common areas have been upgraded.
Subsidized unit sale prices have ranged from $140,000 to $80,000. As of March 2015, eleven units are sold and occupied. The Mulford Commons Condo Association has been trained, and with a newly-elected board, has taken over responsibility for building management.