UnBlocked Englewood repairs homes to help rewrite decades of housing discrimination

Jasmine Minor Image
Friday, March 1, 2024
Group repairs South Side homes to rewrite decades of discrimination
Tonika Lewis Johnson is providing Englewood home improvement for free in order to help write decades of Chicago housing discrimination.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Tonika Lewis Johnson is repairing homes in the Englewood neighborhood in order to rewrite decades of housing discrimination.

"I had a plumber to come here. He wanted $13,000," said Englewood landlord Justine Mosley Stephens.

Stephens didn't have to pay a penny of that. The help didn't stop there.

"They went in, and they replace the furnaces," Stephens said.

That's because UnBlocked Englewood, an organization repairing homes in the neighborhood, did it free-of-cost, so money no longer keeps families from homeownership.

"Sometimes, insurance won't cover the gravity of the repairs that they need, because the housing value is low. So they're really in a precarious situation where they can't afford to upkeep their home even though some of these homes are fully paid for," said Johnson, the founder of UnBlocked Englewood.

According to data from the Woodstock Institute, Black homeownership in Englewood is just 24%. Johnson said it stems from discriminatory practices dating back to the 1950s.

"Predators came in and offered land sale contracts under the mask of being a mortgage," Johnson said.

Melvin Walls is an Englewood homeowner.

"I was shocked to find out it was a problem," Walls said.

Walls said his parents thought they were paying a mortgage in the home he grew up in, but found out they were victims of a land sale contract, which means it was a rent-to-own situation.

"My father, when it was time for him to pay his bills, he paid his bills," Walls said.

Those bills were paid for nearly 20 years. But after two decades, the family earned zero equity.

It is why Stephens ignores the daily texts she gets from large contractors offering to buy her three-story building.

"I'm 75 years old, and I'm still climbing up and down ladders. But if I can do it, you can do it," Stephens said.

Until UnBlocked came in, she was putting in windows and fixing lights herself while working with neighbors to mow grass. It is the type of neighborhood where you find family in those sitting on your porch steps, all willing to lend a hand.

"It's time for us to admit that we need help. Take that help and run with it. And show appreciation," Stephens said.