Brian Boyle loves the backyard of his home on Chicago’s Northwest Side bungalow belt. There is a terrace, tables, umbrellas and a swing.
“It’s our little paradise. We absolutely love it, ”Boyle said. “We are here all the time.”
The money for his backyard oasis came from the Northwest Home Equity Assurance Program, or NHEAP, which encompasses several neighborhoods in his district. Residents pay a small tax of approximately $ 8 per year which appears on their property tax bill. This money goes into a fund and homeowners can enroll in the equity program to apply for a loan.
The northwest side of the city was once made up of predominantly white neighborhoods.
So, over 30 years ago, residents created a controversial tax program to prevent white robbery. But most of the money went unspent for years. Today these communities are more racially diverse and housing activists have demanded changes so that the money can help homeowners improve their properties.
The idea for NHEAP began after the election of Harold Washington, the city’s first black mayor. Some white residents feared property values could plummet, prompting state lawmakers to pass a measure allowing residents of that district to create a fund to claim money if their home’s value is depreciated. That didn’t happen – and the fund swelled to over $ 9 million.
Two years ago, a new leadership arrived after community pressure changed state law to allow the fund to provide loans. Since then, a dozen households have received loans for repairs, maintenance, renovations or other improvements. There are zero rate loans of up to $ 10,000.
NHEAP executive director Ivy Ellis said a family had found stained glass to replace the old ones.
“Other modifications that I have seen: people have built their basements, furnaces, people use it to get a furnace. So, says Ellis, what people can do to improve their homes isn’t really limited.
These loans are obviously valuable for homeowners but also for other residents of the neighborhood, as they keep homes in good condition. However, some housing activists are asking for more to stabilize the neighborhood beyond the aesthetics and upkeep of the house.
“What we have seen during the pandemic and what we are still seeing is that not only are people at risk of eviction and foreclosure, but there is also a real problem with people who can pay their property taxes – especially the elderly, those with disabilities and people of color, ”said James Rudyk of the Northwest Side Housing Center.
In response, state lawmakers passed a revised law over the summer. Homeowners will be able to use the program to obtain loans for overdue property tax payments. It takes effect in January.