In Chicago, neighborhoods on the South and West sides are prime examples of the ever-evolving nature of American communities. Here, longtime residents are mostly priced out of areas they and their family before them have built over many decades, unable to afford the limited inventory of houses on the market and therefore denied the opportunity to build wealth through homeownership. The effects of now-illegal housing policies reverberate across generations: In today’s Chicago, only 35 percent of Black families and 43 percent of Latino families own their homes, compared to 72 percent of white families. As housing opportunities dwindle, local business and community development are choked off too. Only about 13 percent of small businesses in Chicago are owned by people of color.
But there are signs of progress. Helping realize the heights that communities can reach when the needs of citizens are prioritized, JPMorgan Chase is investing in residents building and maintaining housing development, community investment, and entrepreneurship opportunities in Chicago’s South and West side neighborhoods and nearby Back of the Yards. Residents in these neighborhoods are coming together, building communities that will endure for generations. At the forefront of the movement are three visionary leaders—each realizing a better future for one of the country’s most storied cities.
The influx of Mexican residents in 1960 marked a new chapter for Pilsen, one defined by dramatic cultural and economic shifts. Pilsen’s tax base shrunk, reducing the city’s capital for schools and infrastructure and triggering disinvestment. Pilsen was effectively a “credit desert,” where restrictive lending practices left families with limited access to mainstream credit. The situation rendered homeownership nearly impossible.
At the time, Pilsen was struggling. Poverty and a shortage of resources fostered increased crime, which further impeded meaningful investment in the community.
But Pilsen’s downturn spurred radical innovation among the community’s most passionate residents. Raul Raymundo, a Mexican immigrant who grew up in Pilsen, saw every vacant lot as an opportunity.
Raymundo knew that home purchase lending creates the kind of capital that can transform communities. In Pilsen, limited access to living-wage jobs, affordable housing, and bank loans meant families were trapped in a cycle of poverty.
In 1990, with just $30,000 in seed money from local religious leaders, the then 25-year-old created The Resurrection Project (TRP), an organization focused on transforming abandoned lots into affordable housing and hosting workshops on how to build credit and buy property.
“We used to live in a one-room apartment, and there were four of us. We were very cramped there. I never knew how to navigate the homeownership process.”
“If you grew up in poverty, your parents didn’t teach you about owning a home. They teach you more about surviving, and saving money for emergencies. I never had a taste of what homeownership could be.”
“My parents didn’t think they could become homeowners. I can’t say that I remember staying anywhere for more than a year or two years. When the lease is up, you find the next place.”
Today, the organization is looking to scale by constructing modular housing in the Back of the Yards community, a majority Latino neighborhood just south of Pilsen.
MEET RAUL RAYMUNDO:
That support is a portion of the firm’s $30 billion commitment aimed at dismantling the structural barriers Black, Hispanic, and Latino communities have faced on the road toward building wealth.
For its part, JPMorgan Chase endeavors to solve for “the root cause of inequities, going beyond symptoms and institutionalizing change,” says Joanna Trotter, executive director and senior program officer of global philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase. That’s why, Trotter says, the firm seeks partners that are implementing systems-level change for the communities they serve.
As the leader of an organization that has been active in Pilsen since 1990, JPMorgan Chase trusts and invests in leaders like Raymundo. Trotter calls him “an important truth-teller and innovator,” citing TRP’s longtime leadership in developing and preserving affordable rental housing and homeownership opportunities, creating a community development financial institution (CDFI), and bringing responsive financial products to the community among the efforts that make him a both a valuable strategic partner and a fount of community knowledge.
“We have committed to targeting our investments in a way that benefits Chicago’s South and West side communities,” says Trotter. “But how we do that is informed by local organizations and leaders doing the work.”
“[Our TRP home] is a blessing, actually, because we lived in a very small apartment. Having a place to live was something. I was very, very happy. My children were shouting in excitement when they saw they would have a place to live.”
“Intergenerational wealth is my biggest motivation for homeownership. It creates a different type of wealth besides just money. It creates a place where your future generation can call home as well. TRP introduced us to the opportunity.”
“If you have a home, you have a safe place to go to, a place to study, a place to eat, a place to just unwind. TRP gave us an opportunity to create something for ourselves. I want to continue my generational wealth that I saw my parents create.”
“We’re looking forward to working with JPMorgan Chase for many years to come. They’ve invested in us, and we want to continue growing that partnership.”
“Homeownership has historically been one of the most important pathways to wealth building in the United States, but it has not been so easily attainable for Black, Hispanic, and Latino people,” says Trotter. “We must invest in new ways of making homeownership attainable and sustainable for households of color. This helps build a stronger economy for us all.” According to Trotter, some of the more promising solutions include TRP’s work in manufactured housing, as well as its partnership with local government to lower the cost of acquiring and preparing land for high-quality, low-cost homes.
While critical, homeownership is just one part of community reinvestment. The vitality of a community is dependent on the availability of essential amenities: accessible medical care facilities, grocery stores, and community gathering spaces, to name a few.
It’s a reality Auburn Gresham, a 20-minute drive south of Pilsen, knows well.
Auburn Gresham is 95 percent Black. The community is proud and grounded in its history; its sidewalks are lined with West African Adinkra symbols. But community resources are in short supply: Residents must travel outside of the community for medical care and community centers. That dearth of available services lowers the value and the quality of life within Auburn Gresham, creating obstacles to wealth generation and stability.
In 2017, the community published the Auburn Gresham quality-of-life plan, guided by three simple questions: What did Auburn Gresham used to be? What is it today? What might it be tomorrow? The report called for the construction of a wide range of amenities, such as banks, coffee shops, pharmacies, and fresh-produce markets.
“There was a time when Auburn Gresham, the 79th Street corridor, was the busiest corridor in the city of Chicago. There were movie theaters and restaurants open. There were stores on the corner, Black-owned businesses.”
“We stay because we know what it was and what it can be, and we’re committed to getting back to the thriving, bustling neighborhood it once was.”
“I saw a lot of grocery stores leave the community. If you want to live healthy, you got to leave the neighborhood, because there’s nothing around.”
“Grocery stores, banks, pharmacies, health-care services—I’ve seen all of it. I’ve seen all of it leave the neighborhood, too.”
One of the Adinkra symbols found in Auburn Gresham is Mmere dane, meaning “time changes.” As Nelson and GAGDC look forward to opening the HLH in a building that has been vacant for 25 years, the phrase rings true. The HLH will house medical facilities, a sit-down restaurant, a Black-owned pharmacy, a teaching kitchen, and plenty of open space for community members to convene. The medical facilities are expected to treat more than 30,000 patients per year.
Nelson hopes the hub is the beginning of a new chapter, for both Auburn Gresham (which he calls the “crown jewel of the South Side”) and the organization he’s spent his life growing. Once a two-person operation, the organization has grown into a comprehensive community development organization employing 40 full-time and part-time staff focused on health, education, youth development, housing, and seniors services.
MEET CARLOS NELSON:
Nelson is proud that his personal bank is also an investor in his ambitious community development efforts. He first engaged the institution through his participation in a leadership workshop hosted by Prosperity Now, an organization focused on creating a more equitable economy. JPMorgan Chase is the seed funder of Prosperity Now’s Racial Wealth Divide Initiative, aiming to address the resource and capacity disparities that exist between nonprofits led by people of color and those led by white people.
Since connecting with JPMorgan Chase through the program, Nelson says the firm has furthered the work of GAGDC as a whole and made him a better leader. The bank has provided Nelson and GAGDC with networking and fundraising opportunities as well as management-skill training. He says the firm has been instrumental in furthering GAGDC’s “bold vision and audacious aspirations.”
Standing in the 60,000-square-foot space formerly occupied by a furniture store, Nelson daydreams about the light that will pour into the HLH from its ample windows. The space is a testament to the possibilities of public, private, and philanthropic partnership: In addition to JPMorgan Chase’s commitment, the HLH was supported by a number of city grants and donations (Whirlpool and Kohler donated appliances for the bathrooms and offices, and the teaching kitchen is funded by the Chicago Bears).
“Seeing a vacant building come to life on the busiest corridor in the city of Chicago is nothing short of a miracle.”
“I remember when I came to volunteer with the organization. I helped distribute fresh produce, canned goods, and masks to the community. I helped make sure everyone was safe and they were fed. I remember feeling fulfilled.”
“I grew up just a few blocks away from the Healthy Lifestyle Hub, and it was important for me, having been successful, if I could say that humbly, to give back to the community where I grew up, in a meaningful and impactful way.”
“I’m excited about getting some medical facilities in the community and not having to go all the way across town to see the doctor.”
“The Healthy Lifestyle Hub, literally, is putting Auburn Gresham back on the map. Thanks to our development, a new metro station is coming to 79th and Halsted.”
GAGDC believes that when people in the community win, Auburn Gresham wins. JPMorgan Chase’s commitment to community development is helping to increase the value of homes and the quality of life in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood.
But a self-sustaining community also requires a thriving local economy, fueled by resident-owned, well-resourced small businesses. Just three miles northwest of Auburn Gresham, in the Englewood neighborhood, JPMorgan Chase is investing in visionary entrepreneurs leading the way.
Just as in Auburn Gresham, Englewood’s businesses were shuttered as the demographics of the community changed. Property values plummeted, and the population fell from 90,000 in the 1930s to just below 24,000 today. Now Black people comprise 92 percent of Englewood, yet only 20 percent of them are business owners. Residents regularly seek resources and amenities in other parts of Chicago.
Since property is the most common form of collateral put up against a business loan in the United States, the low homeownership in Englewood perpetuates the lack of local businesses. In this neighborhood, 76 percent of housing units are rented and only two percent of Chicago businesses are Black-owned.
“Every community in the United States is built around a walking community that has everything you need within a particular walking distance. In order for us to see this community thrive in the way that we really want, we have to bring vital businesses in.”
“It’s so hard to get funding. It’s almost like you have to be successful and be in business before you can even start a business.”
“It really boils down to the perceptions of the neighborhood. A bakery in Lincoln Park is more likely to get funding, in part because it’s in a high-density, high-income area compared to Englewood. The odds are stacked significantly against people of color compared to other neighborhoods.”
Lucas’s approach to business is unique: He takes money generated from leasing and sales and reinvests it into developing other small businesses.
MEET DEON LUCAS:
“Businesses like E.G. Woode are essential,” says Trotter of JPMorgan Chase. “By creating a space for business owners who live in the community, care about the community, and own the property, they are making local control and shared ownership possible. These businesses are invested in and accountable to their neighborhoods.”
Since its launch in 2015, the Entrepreneurship of Color Fund (EOCF) has supported more than 2,500 small businesses, deploying $119 million in loans across nine metro areas. In 2022 alone, EOCF loaned more than $8 million to some 430 business borrowers in Chicago.
E.G. Woode is home to four Black-owned businesses: barbershop Powell’s, consignment shop Marie | Wesley, design firm Beehyyve, and Momentum Coffee, the neighborhood’s first and only Black-owned coffee shop. At the center, Lucas also offers business development tools and marketing strategies for local entrepreneurs. His future projects include an E.G. Woode Food Hub, which will house two sit-down restaurants as well as a training kitchen concept called Englewood Kitchen.
Lucas says JPMorgan Chase’s investment has been integral to his business’s success. Beyond financial support, Lucas says the bank has elevated him in other areas, too, connecting him to people and institutions that are helping him reach new heights for his business.
That multipronged approach to small-business investment is strategic, providing necessary support beyond the initial surge of capital to address the deep-seated challenges faced by entrepreneurs of color.
“Businesses of color often do not enjoy the same access to networks and mentorship that would unlock their true potential,” Trotter says. “JPMorgan Chase brings a multifaceted approach to provide access to capital through responsive and affordable lending, markets that will help them grow, and strong management tools that will sustain them over the long run.”
“We are showing the community and future entrepreneurs that starting a business can be done.”
“It really feels good that you can live in the same community that you own a business in.”
“You are giving the opportunity to pass that business down to the next generation and to the next generation. It’s about earning a living and potentially building wealth.”
“When you’re in a community such as Englewood, you’re already facing many challenges. You don’t want to be challenged trying to start a business too. We want to be able to help them in that way.”
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