Coalition aims to improve West Side neighborhoods

March 4, 2011 3:06:27 PM PST
Area residents, community leaders and the new owner of a bank are joining forces. Their goal is to purchase and rehab foreclosed homes that have been eyesores in neighborhoods for some time.

The announcement was made Friday morning outside U.S. Bank, 4932 W. Ohio, which took over from the neighborhood bank, Park National Bank, which failed a few months ago.

The Coalition to Save Community Banking and U.S. Bank announced that the bank will give thousands of dollars to purchase and rehab foreclosed homes, all in an effort to revitalize West Side neighborhoods.

Six homes have initially been purchased for rehabbing with the intention of reviving the neighborhood with $600,000 and no-interest loans provided by U.S. Bancorp, the parent company of U.S. Bank.

All the homes will be sold at cost.

The project allots $100,000 per home for renovations and Jacqueline Reed's West Side Health Authority has purchased a two-flat in Austin and begun fixing it up.

"We had one common agenda and that is to turn our communities around," said Reed, organizer.

The project comes more than a year after the Minneapolis-based financial institution took over Park National Bank.

"We insisted that if U.S. Bank was going to replace them, that they come in with the same kind of commitment to help us to deal with our foreclosure crisis," said Rev. Randall Harris, Coalition to Save Community Banking.

The project is a result of the community voicing its concerns about the bank commitment to their struggling neighborhoods. And although the coalition originally asked for $25 million in bank investments, supporters say the current, much smaller commitment is still significant.

Bank officials weren't convinced until residents angry about the bank takeover asked U.S Congressman Danny Davis got involved.

"Now U.S. Bank is a part of our partnership together to really give a model for the whole country," said Reverend Marshall Hatch, Leaders Network for Community Banking.

"It's all about building the community. We make our money by financing businesses and consumers in that community. So if the community isn't financially health, we're not going to be financially healthy," said Richard Hartnack, vice chair, Consumer Banking U.S. Bancorp.

Longtime Austin resident Sheila Malone just hopes to see her neighborhood improve soon.

"I want to see the community evolve into a great community," said Malone.

If the project breaks even, U.S. Bank says they will increase their lending to $800,000 for next year, and the year after that, a million dollars for a total of $2.4 million. They're also saying they're going to be committed to affordable housing.

The bank is also going to sponsor several mortgage modification events. The first is supposed to be in Maywood on March 18.