HUMBOLDT PARK — If you build a beautiful trail that winds through the city's hippest neighborhoods, they will come. But a new program aimed at fighting gentrification around the 606 wants to make sure "they" won't force longtime residents out of their homes.
"There's this beautiful new amenity in Humboldt Park and West Humboldt Park and Logan Square, and we don’t want the people who helped build the neighborhood up to where it is now forced to sell and move away," said John Groene, neighborhood director of the West Humboldt Park branch of Neighborhood Housing Services.
Groene's organization is helping longtime residents living within a strict boundary around the elevated trail apply for $25,000 in "forgivable" loans to fix up their homes. The $1 million program is designed for modest-income homeowners and aims to preserve affordability along the trail.
The loan program comes as developers place their bets on real estate around the 606. In January, developer Perry Casalino announced plans to build five homes with starting prices above $900,000 apiece less than half a block from the trail.
A few weeks after that plan was announced, longtime residents held a protest claiming developers were intent on destroying diversity in the neighborhood. Many say the trail has raised property values and in turn taxes in the neighborhood, pushing longtime residents out.
"They say the  trail is a part of the new Chicago. What are we? The 'old' Chicago," Humboldt Park resident and landlord Delia Ramirez said at the protest. "We want to enjoy [the 606] but we may not be here to do so. We're strangers in our own land."
The forgivable loans mean a lien will be placed upon the home for a four-year period once the homeowner receives the funds. If he or she still lives there at the end of those four years, the loan is forgiven.
Neighborhood Housing Services, the nonprofit administering the loans, aims to help homeowners and strengthen neighborhoods throughout Chicago.
The Chicago Department of Planning and Development implemented the $1 million program, which is using funds from the city's Neighborhood Loan Program.
“The 606 has been a tremendous neighborhood amenity since it opened last year, but it has also created affordability concerns for some longtime residents and property owners," said Department of Planning and Development Commissioner David Reifman. "This program will help support these neighbors by providing no-cost loans for important home repair and improvement costs."
The maximum loan for a single-family or two-unit residence is $20,000, and $25,000 for three-to-four-unit homes.
There are income restrictions on the program: A homeowner must make below 80 percent of the area median income, which for a family of four is $60,800.
The loans must be used for repairs to a home such as a new roof, back porch or windows.
"It's helping families to make their homeownership more affordable, to make deferred maintenance or repairs that they need," Groene said.
The boundary of eligibility is North Avenue to the south, Armitage to the north, Pulaski to the west and Rockwell to the east.
The loans are going to be given on a first-come first-served basis.
If a resident who takes on a loan moves, sells or refinances before the 48-month period is up, the a pro-rated balance of the loan must be repaid.
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