Rather than competing with one another and with area developers for federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) funds allocated to both the state of Illinois and Cook County, about 20 communities in the south suburbs of Chicago are taking a far more strategic approach. Recognizing that it would be inefficient for each community’s limited staff to devise separate approaches for a foreclosure problem that, in the south suburbs, is more than twice the regional average, the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association worked with its 42 members to forge a cooperative approach that narrows the focus to towns along rail and economic development corridors.
With support from the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus and the Metropolitan Planning Council, they formed the South Suburban Housing Collaborative, leveraged an impressive array of new private sector partners, and worked together to submit joint applications for NSP funding to the State of Illinois and Cook County.
For some of the towns, that meant accepting that the money won’t fund proposals within their own borders. For example, three commuter rail lines make 80 stops each day in Blue Island, which since 2005 has been working to strengthen its downtown business district’s connection to the main Metra train station. Blue Island has been partnering with its neighbors to spur new development along the entire transit corridor, so when NSP funding became available, Blue Island saw the joint application as an extension of this ongoing collaboration.
In the state application, Blue Island even agreed to focus on another Metra station just to the south, to redevelop a larger blighted site in nearby Robbins. The city recognizes that everyone gains through this joint effort. If all goes according to plan (and the Collaborative gets support from the county, state and NSP 2), the result will be 474 homes created or preserved, and close to 200 parcels demolished or land-banked for future transit-oriented development.
If there’s a silver lining to the foreclosure crisis, it’s that housing affordability and stability are now top of mind issues, catalyzing innovation and collaboration at local, regional, state and federal levels. Indeed, NSP 2 and HUD’s new Sustainable Communities Initiatives are already encouraging more strategic cooperation across municipal borders, and less wasteful competition.
NHC Member Partner Robin Snyderman, vice president of community development for the Metropolitan Planning Council in Chicago.