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Large Lot Program Expansion Could Run Into West Side Opposition

A vacant Chicago lot
A vacant Chicago lot
city of Chicago

The apparent success the city’s Large Lot Program it had on South Side may not be easily duplicated when it expands to the West Side if its success depends on residents.

Angela Green, 49, has lived in the East Garfield Park neighborhood, where Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he is expanding the program, her entire life and said she does not care for the program.Chicago's large :

“It gives the impression that there are a lot of empty lots in the community and that’s not true,” explained Green. “Yes, there are empty lots in East Garfield Park but not enough to have a rummage sale for residents.”

Yet Emanuel, still excited about the program’s launch this year on the South Side, said he is expanding it to the West Side because it “is an important step in our efforts to partner with Chicagoans who are working to help strengthen our communities.”

Additionally, the mayor said expanding to East Garfield Park from Englewood “is a testament to the strides the city’s ‘Five-Year Housing Plan’ is making toward revitalizing our neighborhoods and empowering communities.”

The program allows residents to purchase city-owned lots for $1 as long as the lot is used for specific uses, such as expanding a homeowner’s yard or to develop a garden. And the location of lots must also be zoned for residential use.

However, Carl Franklin, 59, who has lived in East Garfield Park for 50 years, said there are flaws with the program that could make it difficult for residents to purchase lots.

“People need to know that you can only buy two lots, you must own property on the same block the lot is on and you cannot owe any debts to the city,” Franklin said. “Well, that cuts out a lot of Black folks because usually we fall into one these disqualifying categories.”

The application process for South Side residents vying for one of the 5,000 city-owned vacant lots ended April 21 and no date has been set yet for when West Side residents could apply for the program. According to city’s Planning and Development Department, it is reviewing over 500 applications it received to purchase vacant lots.

But this time applications, which previously were paper, would only be available online.

That has seniors like Barbara Harris, 68, worried.

“I do not own a computer and don’t know how to use one. And I am too old to learn at this point and so are a lot of seniors,” she said. “I don’t understand why the city would put the applications online when they know seniors have a hard time using computers especially in the Black community.”

Dwayne Gresham, 65, who lives in Englewood, disagreed and said a lot of his neighbors applied online and was glad they could do so from home.

“I think the success of the program was due in part because residents were able to apply online,” Gresham said. “Convenience and accessibility is what made this program such a big hit on the South Side.”

And Andrew Mooney, commissioner for the planning department, said he agreed.

“Given the program’s success in the Englewood community, we are proud to expand this promising revitalization opportunity to East Garfield Park,” added Mooney. “The expansion of the Large Lot program will enable East Garfield Park residents to invest in their communities and transform underutilized land into neighborhood assets.”

As part of its housing initiative Emanuel said the city plans to spend $1.3 billion between now and 2018 to create, improve and preserve more than 41,000 units of housing.

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