The Chicago census shows an exodus of the black population. What can be done in Englewood, Austin?
Anthony Simpkins remembers when the Greater Englewood neighborhood was a thriving black community with over 100,000 residents and a commercial street that rivaled the downtown shopping district.
“It used to be one of the busiest commercial gangs in the city of Chicago, and then over the decades it just went downhill,” said Simpkins, president and CEO of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago.
“The mall was demolished, and there were literally hundreds and hundreds of properties – both houses and apartment buildings – that were demolished, and all that remains are tracts of vacant land. “
Over the past 10 years, the exodus of black families has continued in Chicago, which was once a prime destination for black Americans fleeing the violence and racism of the Jim Crow South. West Englewood and Austin have lost the most black residents in the past 10 years, according to the 2020 census.
The Chicago Sun-Times shared the stories of black Chicagoans who had left the city and how their lives improved – but is there a way to stop this 30-year-old population decline?
Community leaders say to bring back black residents, the city must devote more resources to closing the homeownership, wage and life expectancy gaps between blacks and whites in Chicago, even if, of course, it will not be an easy task.
Simpkins said there have been “significant investments” in Grand Englewood over the past six years, and he hopes people will already notice the positive change that is taking place.
This includes the opening of the Englewood Square Mall at 63rd and Halsted Streets, which is home to a Whole Foods Market, health clinic and clothing stores. The city has also helped create affordable housing, with the new primary residence Montclare in Englewood, 6332 S. Green St., and Hope Manor Village Veterans Housing, 6002 S. Halsted St. And in May, the city moved forward. a $ 20.9 million plan from developer Keith B. Key Enterprise to bring more affordable housing along Halsted Street.
Simpkins said these investments should be celebrated, but homeownership is really the way to bring residents back to Greater Englewood, which includes both the community areas of Englewood and West Englewood – and Chicago in general. .
“Homeownership is crucially important when you talk about a neighborhood like Englewood, because homeownership not only removes the burn and improves the neighborhood in some way physically, it’s also an opportunity. for families to build generational wealth because that is the main engine in America for families to do it, ”he said.
Increasing homeownership also increases neighborhood density, which is essential for a thriving community, as homeownership increases foot traffic along the neighborhood’s commercial strip. There cannot be one without the other, Simpkins added.
Research from the Institute for Housing Studies shows that predominantly Black census tracts in Chicago experienced a loss of owner households from 2010 to 2019. The number of owner-occupied households in black neighborhoods fell by 13.6 %, against a drop of 2.8% for the city as a whole.
Despite the dwindling number of residents, Bradly Johnson said he had never had so much hope for Austin’s future, especially given the collaborations between various community organizations.
Johnson, director of external affairs for BUILD Inc., said black residents had left not only Austin but the entire city for opportunities elsewhere, while others wanted to get away from the violence. Still, he points to a 70-page quality of life plan for Austin that he and other community organizations have worked on as an example of how the West Side community can move forward.
The plan features ideas ranging from a manufacturing training center to helping residents get better paying jobs to training parents to get involved with local school boards.
“If we could create the opportunity to do something creative to increase home ownership and access, new business development and incubation, education and also help residents black people to gain a foothold in the trades, which are fairly seamless because of unions and historically how they’re configured, ”Johnson said. “If we could fix these problems, I think you would see a turnaround in the black population. “
Sharif Walker believes collaboration between organizations is how communities like Austin are starting to see the quality of life improve for black residents.
Walker, president and CEO of Bethel New Life, said his nonprofit, which provides affordable housing for seniors, has worked with other organizations to create a community garden that produces fresh vegetables. Walker said they’ve also teamed up to do cooking demonstrations for seniors in their buildings.
It’s a step toward narrowing the life expectancy gap between black and white Chicago residents, Walker said.
Black Chicago residents live an average of 71.4 years, compared to 80.6 years for non-black city residents, according to a report released earlier this year by the Chicago Department of Public Health.
Nicole Acree, 29, grew up in Austin but moved to Atlanta to begin her professional career. She has deep ties to the West Side of Chicago and would love to return there one day to provide the artistic and musical programming that she deems necessary to help the younger generations thrive.
“I want people to realize that what we have could be truly magical if we all came together in one city, not just multiple sides; but if we come together in one city, we could really change some things, ”she said.
Jesse Howe and Andy Boyle contributed data analysis for this report.
Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.