Belmont Cragin is one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets: it’s a neighborhood that has been experiencing a renaissance. This renaissance was driven by a collaboration between the Northwest Side Housing Center and LISC Chicago which engaged community residents around community and neighborhood develop in developing a Quality of Life Plan (QLP). As Jose Quilles (the blue-shirted man in the photo above) explained,
“LISC Chicago has been working with the Northwest Side Housing Center (NWSHC) and other neighborhood partners for several years on the Belmont Cragin Quality-of-Life Plan (QLP), and published the first-ever QLP created by the neighborhood in 2016. The planning process helped engage local residents to organize, then realize, a collective vision for their community’s future,” said Jake Ament, LISC’s Neighborhood Network Director. “The drive of neighborhood leaders and organizations working together on a single roadmap shone a spotlight on the strong assets but clear needs of Belmont Cragin—making many of the initial projects envisioned a reality and leveraging over $170 million in investments in just three years.”
Recently, we interviewed James Rudyk, Jr. Executive Director of Northwest Side Housing Center, which is the lead agency for the Belmont Cragin Quality of Life Plan, for his insights into the process.
How did you get involved in developing the Quality of Life (QLP) plan?
The NWSHC began talking with LISC-Chicago in 2013 sharing the needs that we were seeing in the community and our ideas for proposed solutions. We believed that the establishment of a QLP would help organize and assemble resources needed in the community to help the community combat issues of increased violence, gentrification and displacement, and much-needed resources for our youth. After three years of working with LISC, we were selected as the lead agency of the Belmont Cragin QLP in 2015 and began the planning process. As a result, we created the first-ever community plan for Belmont Cragin from 2016-2018. We are currently in the process of working to update the QLP for 2020-2025.
As a member of the Belmont Cragin community, how do you perceive the process of developing the QLF Plan?
Jose Quiles, is an active community member, Quality of Life Plan participant, and was key to the organizing campaign for one of the biggest QLP achievements: a new elementary school. He shared, “This [the NWSHC] is the only organization I see where the community takes the lead. We gave birth to Mary Lyon Elementary in 1995 because of overcrowding, and here we are in 2019 with the same problem. But when the community speaks out and the mayor hears us, that’s a victory itself.”
What current and potential benefits are you experiencing personally or professionally?
Since our QLP in partnership with LISC-Chicago, we have invested over $170 million dollars in Belmont Cragin including additional community resources, affordable housing, a new public elementary school, and community center. We have seen a more united community that is also more resilient, able to withstand and bounce back from trauma and adverse experiences. We have also seen the community become more engaged and organized uniting to secure additional resources around a common agenda that has brought additional investment from Chicago Cares, Lurie’s Children’s Hospital, CDOT, Chicago Park District, the Chicago Fire, and Chicago Public Schools.
Finally, how do you expect the QLP plan to affect Belmont Cragin in the future?
We are changing the way in which community planning happens, instead of a top-down approach in which decisions are made by those in power for communities, we are identifying and responding to the needs of the community and developing resident leaders to lead the planning process. This changes the inherent power imbalance between community members and those in power. Through this process the community will remain educated, engaged, and empowered for years to come.
Community and neighborhood engagement work most effectively when residents and stakeholders involved are included in the process. When discussing the success of the Belmont Cragin Quality of Life Plan, the most successful strategy that Northwest Side Housing Center and LISC Chicago implemented was engaging neighborhood residents in the planning process. Thanks to these efforts, Belmont Cragin receives a variety of benefits which include
- $44 million investment towards a new building/community center for Belmont-Cragin Elementary;
- $25.6 million invested in senior housing;
- $12 million towards a new Cook County Clinic;
- Various public safety and beautification upgrades, as well as
- Several additions and renovations to Steinmetz College Prep including $50,000 from the Chicago Cubs Charities Diamond Project for the school’s Field of Dreams
Such changes only result from a spirit of collaboration and cooperation. Thanks to that spirit, Belmont Cragin is one Chicago neighborhood that’s experiencing a renaissance.
And as always, thanks for reading!