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Micro Market Recovery Program Revitalizes Blocks Across Chicago

Anthony and Michelle Johnson and their children in front of the two-flat in the 700 block of North Spaulding Avenue that they purchased through the city's Micro Market Recovery Program (MMRP). They live in the lower portions of the house and rent out the top floor.

Photos by Gordon Walek


In 2012, Jeannie Oquendo believed a “dirty, unorganized” block in West Humboldt Park could become something special a few years later. 

“It had been unsettled, but now the block is a whole lot cleaner because the people who live on the block care about the block,” Oquendo said. “It’s been fun to see it transform.”

Oquendo in 2015 became the first homeowner in the 500 block of North Central Park Avenue after six vacant properties were acquired through the City of Chicago’s Micro Market Recovery Program (MMRP). All of the buildings are now occupied, three with first-time homebuyers – the block has bloomed. Oquendo also owns a side lot next to her home, purchased in 2016, that this year was filled by a garden packed with tomatoes, cucumbers, jalapeno peppers and other vegetables. 

Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Chicago coordinates the work of community organizations across the city who inventory vacant and foreclosed properties in target areas, identify owners of troubled properties and present recommendations to City officials and technical assistance providers. The MMRP provides $15,000 in purchase assistance to income qualified homebuyers toward the purchase of a single-family to 4-unit homes listed on the private market. In addition, vacant, foreclosed or a short-sale 1-4 unit building will qualify for MMRP purchase assistance. 

As part of the MMRP, the Johnson family – Anthony, Michelle and their two young children – purchased a two-flat in the 700 block of North Spaulding Avenue also in West Humboldt Park. They live in the lower portions of the house and rent the top floor. The home had been vacant for more than a year, and the Johnsons moved in after the home was completely renovated. 

“We love it,” said Michelle Johnson, who like her husband, teaches tuckpointing skills to local teens.


Jeannie Oquendo in 2015 became the first home owner in the 500 block of North Central Park Avenue after six vacant properties were acquired through the MMRP. All of the buildings are now occupied, three with first-time homebuyers.


The MMRP started in 2011 as an initiative by the City of Chicago to respond to homeowner foreclosure crisis and its impact on neighborhoods, said LISC MMRP coordinator Jack Swenson. 

“The challenge is to reinvigorate the market in places where there has been no significant investment,” Swenson said. “The market couldn’t recover on its own because disinvestment had become so significant. The realization was in order to make the market work again, you had to stabilize entire blocks.” 

From 2012-16, the City worked with LISC to identify 13 Neighborhood Target Areas on the South and West sides – including Chicago Lawn, Englewood, Austin and West Humboldt Park — for the MMRP where the housing market could not come back on its own. The program is continuing in six of those sections, including where Oquendo and the Johnson family live, plus added three more target areas in 2017, Swenson said. 

David Reifman, Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development for the City of Chicago said the city has “tried to connect our MMRP strategy to a larger community and economic development strategy. 


Jack Swenson, the LISC MMRP coordinator, has years of experience working on urban development and a long history in Chicago’s planning department. MMRP, he said, has been successful in achieving its goals to “rebuild the private housing market in distressed communities by reducing the cost of home ownership, creating communities of choice and attracting new owners to vacant buildings on targeted neighborhood blocks.” 


“So where we’ve seen success, literally taking back areas block-by-block-by-block, we want to tie that into our economic development efforts involving commercial corridors and making neighborhoods, ‘neighborhoods of choice’,” Reifman said. “To that degree, the MMRP program has been a significant contributor and started that process. And, I think it’s very important and incumbent upon the City as a whole to invest in neighborhoods and commercial areas that continue to support and bring value to the homes where we have seen successes with MMRP.” 

To date, Swenson said MMRP has reoccupied 865 vacant properties, saved 76 people from foreclosure, reduced the cost of home ownership for 306 families and counseled 910 people on housing-related issues. The key to this success is working through local organizations that know the community and have deep relationships with local residents, according to Swenson, and starting small – showing progress on a few key blocks as a way to trigger bigger impact. 

Swenson, who has years of experience working on urban development and a long history in Chicago’s planning department, said MMRP has been successful in achieving its goals to “rebuild the private housing market in distressed communities by reducing the cost of home ownership, creating communities of choice and attracting new owners to vacant buildings on targeted neighborhood blocks.” 

“Many of the MMRP target areas have experienced a dramatic decrease in long term vacancy and an increase in pride of ownership among neighborhood residents,” Swenson said. “MMRP has been successful for several reasons. It puts organizations that understand a community’s issues front and center in developing solutions. It creates collaborative commitment between these organizations, the City, and technical assistance providers. It also invests in both the needs of those who are there today and the opportunities to attract future residents.” 


John Groene, the Neighborhood Director for the West Humboldt Park Neighborhood Housing Services, described Oquendo, the Johnsons and other MMRP home purchasers as neighborhood leaders. “When someone invests and says I’m going to live here and raise my family here, its leadership,” Groene said. “It’s putting money where your mouth is. Home ownership turns whole blocks around.” 


John Groene, the Neighborhood Director for the West Humboldt Park Neighborhood Housing Services, described Oquendo, the Johnsons and other MMRP home purchasers as “neighborhood leaders.” 

“When someone invests and says I’m going to live here and raise my family here, it's leadership,” Groene said. “It’s putting money where your mouth is. Home ownership turns whole blocks around.” 

Michelle Johnson, who purchased the unit despite water not working until after they moved in, said she and her family “are committed to making Spaulding our home.” 

“In my mind a successful neighborhood is a place where people are happy to live and enjoy peace and healthy relationships,” Johnson said. “There are many struggles on our block but also many successes. If we are living in a building in the neighborhood, but aren't actually doing life in the neighborhood, we aren't actually neighbors. Our city doesn't need more folks occupying buildings; we need more neighbors. Our family has embraced where we live as part of our work -- a holistic development approach centered in relationships.” 

Oquendo, a Prosser High School and DePaul University graduate, said she was happy to be her block’s trailblazer. The program allowed her to purchase the red brick home and fully rehab it. The process took more than two years, but she said it was worth it as she owns a home for the first time and has a place for her three children. 

She wanted to live and own in West Humboldt Park because her parents live a few blocks away and she wanted to be close to the CTA Green Line, which she utilizes to travel to schools across the city for her position as a bilingual educator for the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago. 

“What I would like people to know is this wasn’t an easy journey, but now I have my own house, and I’m not paying much more mortgage than I had to pay in rent,” Oquendo said. “And, this is all mine.” 

For more information on the MMRP check out this video or these City of Chicago details.

Posted in Housing, Humboldt Park

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Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago connects neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier.

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