Natalie Moore
Friday, August 15, 2008
Englewood has one of the highest foreclosure rates in Chicago. So it may come as a surprise that one local developer is going out on a limb by marketing a new property as the neighborhood’s first condo conversion. But it may be another symbol of the South Side neighborhood’s attempt to turn the tide on a history of disinvestment and housing woes.

I’m standing in front of a vintage greystone on 64th and Stewart. The building is graceful and the landscaping is elegant. On either side there are vacant lots, a norm for Englewood. Inside, workers are converting the building into a six-unit condo.

Doesn’t sound like a big deal, right? But in Englewood, there’s hardly a glut of development.

I get a tour of the model unit. Maple floors, stainless steel, granite countertops, a garage being built out back. Developer Beth Vorwaller says she’s trying to bring North Side accoutrements to the South Side.

VORWALLER: I like the idea of if I can make a little bit of money, but offer upgrade a neighborhood, I’d rather do than work in already expensive neighborhoods. I’m a big supporter of the South Side.

This building Vorwaller purchased for this project had sat vacant for two years after the bank foreclosed on it. The city gave Vorwaller some tax incentives to build, and the units range from $135,000 to $215,000 for a duplex.

VOLWALLER: The condo living style is better, especially if you’re a dual-income family or a single mom with kids. And it’s kind of who we’re marketing to.

None of the condos have sold signs in the window. The housing market has been tough on Englewood. According to policy think tank the Woodstock Institute, there are 68 foreclosures per 1,000 properties. Subprime lending has marred the neighborhood. Large retail shopping is scarce.

But things are turning. Last year a new Kennedy-King College opened on Halsted Street. It’s one of the obvious signs of growth in the stigmatized Englewood. Rodney Walker is executive director of the neighborhood reform group Teamwork Englewood. Walker says the new condo building is not a curtain-raiser to gentrification.

WALKER: I think if it was several buildings, then I would kind of get that feel. But this is such a small-scale project that you really don’t get the sense that the neighborhood is going to change rapidly.

He’s not ready to pop champagne at the development or protest its existence. Walker sees something else.

WALKER: It’s a good opportunity to take some of the existing property and to rehab it and to sell some at a market rate and sell some at affordable housing rates and then have some for rental.

If anything, 64th and Stewart symbolizes that change comes in very small doses.

I’m Natalie Moore, Chicago Public Radio.

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