In a recent Chicago Public radio piece, Melissa Townsend describes the significant challenges facing south suburban Ford Heights and raises a thought-provoking question: In a time of limited resources, is Ford Heights the kind of town to invest in?
MPC and the South Suburban Housing Collaborative, whose formation MPC and the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus have supported over the past year, have an answer: Yes, but with a new approach to investment.
The solution is neither cutting off funding to Ford Heights, nor continuing to invest without a better plan. A new approach is needed for struggling, capacity-constrained suburbs. Forward-thinking leaders in the southern suburbs are currently working hard to create such an approach.
Twenty-eight communities have come together over the past year through the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association to form the South Suburban Housing Collaborative. These municipalities recognize that what’s good for one community is good for the southern suburbs as a whole, and that economic development is as likely to spread across borders as the foreclosure crisis. They have joined forces to be as strategic and efficient as possible when investing in their communities.
An initial focus of the Collaborative has been the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP), which is providing funding to address foreclosed and abandoned properties. Rather than competing with each other, 21 of the Collaborative members submitted a joint application to Cook County for this funding. The communities used shared criteria to guide their project selection, focusing on areas near transit lines, jobs or existing redevelopment investments. They have assembled a strong network of partners to assist with the implementation of their NSP plans. Support from local foundations allowed the Collaborative to hire its Director of Housing Initiatives, Janice Morrissy. She is a much-needed resource who works on behalf of all the member communities to help them advance their development goals.
The good news is that the Collaborative was recently awarded over $9 million in NSP funding from Cook County. Ford Heights was one of the towns funded through the Collaborative, receiving almost $1.7 million. Other communities in the Collaborative are happy that one of their hardest-hit neighbors received funding, but also recognize the important role that the Collaborative will play in helping Ford Heights invest this money well.
The hard work of implementing the NSP projects begins now. Ford Heights is better equipped for success with the support of an entity like the South Suburban Housing Collaborative.