The South Chicago community literally helped make Chicago what it was.
For most of the 20th century, many of our city’s skyscrapers, highways, and bridges were built of steel, which the neighborhood mills – particularly the huge US Steel South Works – produced 24/7 and freighted, and thousands of well-paying jobs on the way.
And what happened after that? The days of Big Steel dwindled and then ended in the 1970s, and the city and its institutions repaid their debts to South Chicago by making it another neighborhood weakened by chronic divestments.
So, last week, we were delighted to hear the announcement that Fifth Third Bank will make a three-year investment of $ 20 million in the South Chicago neighborhood.
Working with Claretian Associates and South Chicago-based Enterprise Community Partners, a national nonprofit for affordable housing, the bank announced that it intends to fund nine categories of needs in South Chicago, including mortgages, small business loans, and loans Revitalizing the neighborhood.
If successful, the bank’s involvement could help resolve a number of chronic problems in South Chicago, including a lack of quality, affordable housing, access to capital, and income and wealth disparities compared to the rest of the city.
Fifth Third Bank said it will invest $ 180 million in nine communities across the country, including South Chicago.
“We believe this effort. . . will not only produce significant, positive results, but will also catalyze other investments, “Fifth Third said in a statement,” which will lead to sustained improvements in retail and commercial vitality.
‘Forgotten Community’ gets her right
Most of the $ 20 million – $ 18 million – will go towards affordable home and business loans in South Chicago, a triangular neighborhood roughly bordered by 79th Street, Lake Michigan, and the Chicago Skyway.
Claretian Associates will receive $ 2 million to support its work in the area, including $ 500,000 to repair an indoor pool at the organization’s Salud Center, a former YMCA at 3039 E. 90th St., that is being converted into a 101 unit was converted into a senior citizens’ residence.
Other projects include converting a vacant building at 3134 E. 92nd St. into a staff development center and café.
“Often we feel like the forgotten community,” Angela Hurlock, executive director of Claretian Associates, told WTTW. “But we are here, we are thriving and we are continuing to grow.”
A role for banks
If Chicago neighborhoods like South Chicago are to be rejuvenated, large investments are required from the banks.
Big Steel hasn’t been around for a long time, but the neighborhood still has its merits. For example, Commercial Avenue, the neighborhood’s Main Street, is still a functioning shopping street, mainly kept alive by the residents of South Chicago who shop there.
With its fine early 20th century retail architecture, Commercial Avenue could be greatly improved with some of this Fifth Third Bank investment.
South Chicago is also close to enviable natural treasures, including the lakefront and attractive, restored public wetlands and green spaces further south, such as Big Marsh Park and Hegewisch Marsh.
It’s especially nice to see a bank play a leading role in the battle for a neighborhood like South Chicago, as the banking industry has played a historic and even ongoing role in divesting largely black communities over the past half century.
We hope that Fifth Third Bank’s investment will be just the first of a good new cause for South Chicago, with other banks following suit there.
And if not in South Chicago, then elsewhere in the city where there is a similar need.
For the sake of the neighborhood. And in the interests of our city as a whole.
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