A Push To Empower Residents By Turning Renters Into Homeowners

Englewood community leader Asiaha Butler is adding a strategy to her community revitalization work: real estate development.

Butler, founder of Residents Association of Greater Englewood, known as R.A.G.E., and Deon Lucas, the architect behind E.G. Woode, founded the Englewood Development Group and bought their first property in 2018 with the aim of helping renters become homeowners.

Now, their first home renovation project — a red-brick two-flat at 6219 S. Bishop Ave. — is finally market-ready. All that’s left to decide on is the price, which will be decided with affordability in mind, Butler said. “It’s not just about purchasing a property in Englewood. We want it to be owner-occupied so that we can create some pathways to wealth,” Butler said.

Butler and Lucas originally bought the property from the Cook County Land Bank for $10,000. Renovations cost about $140,000. The project is part of a “buy the block” approach to building up Black communities, facilitating affordable homeownership while preventing gentrification. The strategy recently has been put into action in Houston’s historic Fifth Ward.

The structure of the Bishop Avenue house — built in the early 20th century — was in great condition, Butler said. The proximity to the police station and the quiet cul-de-sac on which the house sits made the property even more attractive.

But it needed a lot more work than Butler initially thought.

“I thought it would be a slight renovation, but after we had our experts come in, it was a complete gut rehab,” Butler said. “I needed a new roof and a new back porch.”

The project wasn’t without its challenges. Someone stole copper wiring and other materials. They hit snags with the construction and delays in ensuring the project followed loan requirements.

A shot of the back porch, before and after.

Then the pandemic hit, which put a halt to site visits.

“The biggest lesson I learned from this was patience,” Butler said. “There are so many people that are in the mix, from our loan officers and the things you have to do to stay compliant with them, to working with [the construction company] and learning their flow and how they work.”

The project also stalled when a general contractor left the company and was replaced with a person new to the role. Butler and the newcomer had to get to know each other.

“Unfortunately, there are folks who don’t trust the people on the ground to take a project from vision to action to reality. I think that our reputation, R.A.G.E.’s reputation, the work we’ve been doing with the Quality of Life initiative, and everyone who’s been involved — people saw that we were serious,” Butler said.

That social capital and a flawless application made the difference in getting the project done well, Butler said.

“The things I’ve been involved with on a real estate front with the city really helped them and the Chicago Community Loan Fund take a chance on us,” Butler said. “I had some financial woes of my own, and this was a new organization, but they really worked with us.”

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