The Englewood neighborhood recently celebrated a milestone in economic development with the five-year anniversary of a retail mall, sometimes known as the “miracle on 63rd & Halsted.”
Englewood Square was the vision of local developer Leon Walker, Esq., and scores of community activists, residents and influencers who had been advocating for investment in the working-class neighborhood that came to life in 1851 as a residential hub for railroad, trucking and stockyard workers.
Originally populated by German and Irish immigrants, today Community Area 68, as it is legally designated, is home to roughly 24,000 people, the majority of whom are African American (94.6 percent); most are descendants of Blacks who moved to the area during the 1960s and 70s.
While the median age is 34 years old, the majority of residents are between the ages of 5 and 34 years old, according to CMAP data. The median household income is $22,127, in contrast to the citywide median income of $58,427.
Of the 8,983 occupied housing units in Englewood, nearly 7,000 are held by renters. Despite the burst of new housing for seniors and the disabled constructed by Antioch Baptist Church, there has been slow housing growth and very little equitable development.
There are reportedly 4,817 vacant units in the neighborhood where housing costs average between $20,000 and $50,000, CMAP noted. Most dwellings were built before 1940. The community’s unemployment rate is 18.6 percent, in contrast to the overall 7.3 percent unemployment rate citywide.
It is the only community in Chicago that is mapped over six wards and is represented by several City Council members—Raymond Lopez (15), Stephanie Coleman (16), David Moore (17), Jeanette Taylor (20), Roderick Sawyer (6) and Pat Dowell (3), who has a sliver of Englewood’s northwest corner—each with different priorities for the Greater Englewood neighborhood.
Because each of the city’s 50 wards must have roughly the same population, the expansive area was diced up accordingly to ensure each community area was in compliance.
“Ultimately, I agree. Englewood has too many hands in it,” Taylor told an online publication in September. “You got five different people with five different visions for Englewood and a community full of needs, and it hasn’t worked for the people.”
Data suggests that between 2008 and 2018, 1,690 structures were demolished in the Greater Englewood area and a mere 140 new construction permits were issued. The Crusader sent freedom of information requests to various city agencies but has yet to receive the data requested.
Projects such as the Englewood Square, the rebuild of Kennedy King College in 2007, and opening of the consolidated $85 million Englewood STEM High School in 2019 are signs some believe indicate a renewed interest in the impoverished neighborhood that can no longer be relegated to the shadows.
“They’ve ignored us for a long time and tried to pigeonhole Englewood as nothing but violence,” said a project manager who requested anonymity because he is unauthorized to speak on development projects. “There are a number of multi-use developments on the table, and we are going about the work quietly. I think people will be surprised at what we’re doing over here.
“Most social impact investors were looking for double-digit returns on investment and Englewood didn’t offer that at the time,” he said. “A lot of movement will happen near the 59th Street corridor. I just hope we can hold on to the community because too many of our people are moving out. Some want better opportunities, but to be honest the concentrated violence is fueling the decision to leave.”
Residents have been vocal and active on the types of development and projects they want in their neighborhood. At a community meeting held over the summer, people complained about a proposed gas station at 6700 S. Halsted St. “We already have a gas station there,” the business leader told the Crusader. “We don’t need another one where people hang out, drop trash and attract the wrong element. We need new ideas.”
Recently, Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot announced a community improvement initiative “Invest South/West.” The program seeks to “marshal the resources of multiple city departments, community organizations, and corporate and philanthropic partners toward 10 communities on Chicago’s South and West sides,” the city said through a press release. Englewood is not included in the initial investment round.
The new mixed-use projects, valued at $200 million, are slated for North Lawndale, Bronzeville and New City neighborhoods in an effort to spur development in disadvantaged communities.
Reportedly, the four redevelopment proposals selected by the city’s planning department are expected to create more than 215 residential units and 40,000 square feet of commercial space on vacant or underutilized sites.
“Through this groundbreaking collaboration, the city will align more than $750 million in public funding over the next three years, while seeking to maximize those public investments in order to attract significant additional private and philanthropic capital, respond to changing commercial trends, and enrich local culture,” the city announced.
“With a focus on 12 key commercial corridors in the 10 communities – the “front doors” to the neighborhoods – INVEST South/West collectively supports infrastructure development, improved programming for residents and businesses, and policies that impact each of the community areas surrounding these corridors to create lasting impact.
News of the initiative has been greeted with enthusiasm by residents who have decried the disparity and lack of investment on the South and West sides of the city where mostly Black and Hispanic residents live. Englewood is one of the city’s 138 “Opportunity Zones” where gentrification, displacement, and disinvestment have become normalized and policy-driven.
Opportunity Zones, created by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts, provide an incentive for investors to invest in distressed areas for a temporary tax deferral. Zones were developed through an analysis that included poverty rates, unemployment rates, total number of children in poverty, violent crime rate and population.
Despite the tax incentive, investors in Chicago’s 135 Opportunity Zones are few and far between. The Real Deal, an online real estate portal, compared property sales in Opportunity Zones between 2018 and 2019, and found that Chicago ranked No. 29, with about $952 million, according to Crain’s. New York ranked first, with more than $15.8 billion.
The 63rd and Halsted Street commercial corridor was once the second busiest shopping district outside of downtown and is the heart of the 16th Ward.
Located at the site of the former Englewood Mall, a multi-use retail development once anchored by Sears and Roebuck and Kresge’s Department Store, the development is marked by the 18,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market and is part of a larger 13-acre development project located at a four-way intersection near Kennedy King at 6301 S. Halsted St.
The retail development, initially championed by 16th Ward Alderman Toni Foulkes before she was defeated by Coleman, is also home to a Starbucks, Oak Street Pharmacy, Chipotle Mexican Grill and a shoe store. The “miracle on 63rd Street,” happened after decades of abandonment that led to a massive loss of housing stock.
The Chicago Community Loan Fund (CCLF) was one of many financiers that provided capital for the project. CCLF provided a $500,000 predevelopment loan, using U.S. Treasury CDFI Fund Healthy Food Financing Initiative dollars. Other funders included PNC Bank, the Chicago Development Fund, and Fundrise and the New Market Tax Credit, and the city’s controversial Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program.
Englewood is often mentioned in the press as synonymous with gun violence, poverty, and systemic despair, but long-time residents have worked diligently to change that perception.
Groups such as Teamwork Englewood, the 16th Ward Political Task Force, the Residential Association of Greater Englewood (RAGE), and Grow Greater Englewood, a social enterprise that works with residents and developers to create sustainable food economies and green businesses to empower residents to create wellness and wealth, are working to sustain the development momentum.
“We are constantly pushing forward with excellence and growth in mind,” said Walker, who is managing partner of DL3 Realty. “Years from now, Englewood will be looking at full completion of the 13 acres, and (the neighborhood) will be a community of choice and population growth.
“I believe long-term Englewood residents will see safer streets, more job opportunities, resources, and an alternative storyline to what we currently see in the media about Englewood,” he said. “Prosperity isn’t sustainable without investment and the ability to access capital. Through this development, we wanted to break that cycle and start afresh.”