West Cook communities get big federal grant

December 3, 2011 (CHICAGO)

The West Cook County Housing Collaborative won the $7 million grant to strengthen neighborhoods in parts of Chicago, Oak Park, Bellwood, Berwyn, Forest Park and Maywood.

The grant, awarded through the Ike Disaster Recovery Program, will be earmarked for affordable housing, foreclosure recovery and transit development.

"There are many people who are going to be living out here in this rain in the cold weather all winter long," said Maywood Mayor Henderson Yarborough. "So we're very thankful for the assistance we are receiving."

Dry cleaner James Forrest believes the West Side is the place for him, although he is among several small business owners struggling to survive in tough economic times.

"Without jobs, people don't have their dry cleaning done," he said. "I'd like to increase my staff but I can't until we get the business."

Alderman Deborah Graham of Chicago's 29th Ward, who took a walking tour of local businesses along West Chicago Avenue Saturday with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, wants to change that through the grant.

She would like to see some consecutive blocks be an area of African American-owned businesses.

Graham said it could happen with help from Washington behind a plan to stabilize the community by helping local businesses create jobs.

"The reality is that over 90 percent of new jobs comes from small businesses that add one, two, three, four, five employees and so we need to focus on that too," Durbin said.

The grant could provide the kind of help Forrest says is needed.

"We need to get these vacant lots filled and jobs is key," he said. "We have to have jobs in the neighborhood."

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