Tuesday, November 21, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
Featured image: An apartment building in the process of being demolished earlier this year. | Village of Maywood
Charles Sergeant, 35, lives with his wife and children in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, but they’re considering a move back to Maywood, where Sergeant grew up. Some things, however, stand in their way.
“For African Americans, we’re looking for a place that is color-friendly, safe and affordable — those are our bare minimums,” Sergeant said during a Nov. 15 community meeting Village Free Press hosted at the Quinn Community Center, 1851 S. 9th Ave. in Maywood.
But no matter where blacks populate, the Maywood native said, voicing a concern that was front of mind for most of the roughly two dozen attendees, they encounter the same problems: high taxes, crime, poor infrastructure and failing schools.
“To be honest with you, though, in the Chicago area, an area that has those bare minimums really doesn’t exist,” he said. “I grew up in North Maywood and that’s the only place I can see that might [be close to having them]. It’s just that I’ve also seen disinvestment in our communities regardless of where we are.”
The frustration and anxiety was most palpable when the issue of property taxes was raised. Nathaniel George Booker said that he moved back to his native Maywood recently, after inheriting his grandparents’ house. He had been living in New York for four years before coming back, he said, only to be hit with reality.
“How long does it take to redo Washington Boulevard? It’s raggedy. Maywood Drive is ridiculous,” Booker said through a heavy tone of exasperation. “Maywood looks abandoned. The property taxes are ridiculous. I own my house, but I’m renting the cost of land. I can buy a bigger, newer house five miles up, 10 miles up in a community where I can walk to a grocery store.”
The high taxes, coupled with the state of the public schools, is what could make moving back to Maywood a non-starter for Sergeant’s wife, Aneesa Sergeant, who is an assistant principal in Chicago.
“The homes in Maywood that we’re looking at online have taxes that are between $7,000 and $10,000 a year,” Aneesa said. “I’m not paying $10,000 in taxes when my children can’t go to the local schools.”
And when comparing Maywood’s taxes with the tax levels in nearby, up-and-coming communities, the prospect becomes even more remote, they said. Aneesa said that among the young, black prospective homebuyers she’s talked to, Berwyn — where property taxes, she said, range between $4,000 and $6,000 — is a hot topic.
“There are young, black families moving into Berwyn,” she said. “They’re attracted to it because it appears to be up-and-coming and they’re moving forward and there is investment being made right now, not just in the next 10 or 20 years. It’s happening now and it’s still affordable for working-class people to get in at this present time.”
New homeowners key to growth
The anxieties about moving into Maywood expressed by the Sergeants is what makes the prospect of an economic rebound for the village such a conundrum.
The source of Maywood’s strength, Maywood Village Manager Willie Norfleet said during a Nov. 7 regular board meeting, is its housing base — which comprises over 75 percent of the village’s taxable property value. But it’s that very housing base that’s taken the greatest hit in the last several years.
Maywood’s residential assessor valuation was around $219 million in 2010. In 2016, the valuation was at around $140 million, Norfleet said — a 36 percent drop. By comparison, between 2010 and 2016, the village’s commercial valuation went from roughly $14 million to $27 million — a 93 percent increase.
“You really haven’t lost a beat with economic development,” Norfleet said to village board members. “You got killed with residential. The way you’re going to come back is to get your residential redeveloped.”
During the Nov. 7 meeting, Maywood Trustee Isiah Brandon recommended that the village look into creating a staff position that would be responsible for attracting prospective homebuyers like the Sergeants.
“There definitely needs to be an investment in someone to focus on housing — whether that be like a housing coordinator or someone to just focus on attracting housing developments throughout the village and kind of overseeing that,” he said.
But attracting prospective homebuyers like the Sergeants might be much easier said than done. James Clark, a longtime Maywood resident who is looking to open a restaurant in town, knows the difficulty firsthand. He said he’s been trying to persuade his girlfriend to move to his hometown, but he hasn’t gotten any headway.
Clark, whose prospective restaurant is the very selling point needed to entice young homeowners like the Sergeants to the village, said he’s been put through the wringer by village officials during the process of applying for a permit.
“I’m going through permitting now and in order for me to get on a regular board meeting takes a month and once it gets to the board meeting it has to be approved and its several more weeks to get to zoning,” Clark said. “These meetings are weeks and months apart. That is ridiculous for a business owner like me, because every day I sit waiting on a meeting is more money that gets thrown out.”
Clark said that he also has to confront challenges from Maywood residents who may be leery of the village courting a population of active millennials who value a vibrant nightlife, but who may not be in income brackets required to own homes — an increasingly large segment of the adult population.
Some of those residents are homeowners who are protective of the village’s bedroom community quality and fearful that things could go back to the way certain parts of the village used to be — when loitering outside of establishments like the now-defunct Lorraine’s Liquor Store on 5th Ave. was commonplace and crime rampant.
The tension between those residents and residents like Clark came to a head earlier this year, when some community members reacted negatively to a developer’s proposal to build a 68-unit, mixed-use affordable housing complex on the site of a vacant lot at 800-820 S. 5th Ave.
Some residents interpreted the developer’s proposal as an attempt to build a complex that would attract low-income residents on housing vouchers. The developer, the nonprofit Interfaith Housing Development Corporation, said that this was a misinterpretation of their proposal.
“We’re terrified,” said Tom Kus, the president of the Maywood Historical Preservation Committee during a public meeting on the proposal in August. “Everybody needs a place to live, but we don’t want to start importing poor people.”
Maywood resident Shanee Edwards, 32, was among those who pushed back against what they said was an unfair characterization of the kind of people who depend on affordable housing.
“A lot of people have concerns with the word affordability or affordable, which makes them afraid …. But a person’s income level doesn’t [measure] whether or not they’re a productive citizen,” she said.
Many village officials who support the proposal have argued that it will bring more residents into Maywood’s downtown area, which runs along 5th Ave., from Lake St. to Quincy. They also argued that the development could provide housing for residents too old to maintain, or maneuver in, single family homes.
The reality, Charles Sergeant said, is that many houses in places like Maywood and Chicago’s Austin neighborhood are occupied by an aging population of homeowners whose children and grandchildren aren’t prepared to maintain them — or to take up the responsibilities, like civic engagement, that often accompany homeownership.
The way forward, said some people who attended the Nov. 15 community meeting, may be with young families like the Sergeants and young homeowners like Booker taking a risk on their hometown, anyway — fashioning it in their own image, because there’s nothing like a place of one’s own, formed from the sweat of the brow, from struggle.
“I have lived in Maywood all my life,” said Gail Hannah Walker, a retired registered nurse. “I lived in North Maywood, but I came back to South Maywood because I got my mother’s house. It’s generational and it’s about what’s in your heart. My children still want to live in Maywood. No matter where you go, you’re going to have problems. So, you have to decide, ‘Where do I want my children to grow up?’” VFP
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