New Pisgah rescues foreclosed homes
The “mission” of New Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church, in Auburn Gresham, goes way beyond shouting distance of its physical facility on South Racine Avenue. The church’s community service organization is playing a major role in addressing the foreclosure issue that’s bedeviling Auburn Gresham and many other Chicago neighborhoods. Through the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program, it’s currently rehabbing six vacant, foreclosed houses comprising 14 homes or apartments in Auburn Gresham and one 7-unit building in South Shore.
Workers for New Homes for New Pisgah, the development arm of New Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church, rehab a foreclosed home.
Photos by Bill Healy
New Pisgah works through the church’s community service organization as a sort of general contractor, farming out most of the physical labor to sub-contractors.
“The dream of doing these houses was my dad’s,” said Stan Smith, whose brother Wayne is the church’s pastor. “As a church you can do certain things on Sundays and with the church members, but he had a desire to do something in the community.”
New Pisgah was started in 1966 by their father, the Rev. Sylvester Smith. According to Stan, their dad said, “I want to provide good housing that’s affordable where low-income folks can get in. And if there are programs with subsidies or help with the down payment those are the programs I want to go to. I want to be able to help someone get into housing.”
Since the early 1990s, New Pisgah has built a nursing home for seniors and a day care center, which is attached to the church at 8130 S. Racine. Stan and Wayne’s sister run the day care and the nursing home is staffed by church members. (They have another brother and sister as well.) They’re also in the process of building another housing facility for seniors, this time on South Halsted Street.
The interior of an Auburn Gresham house New Pisgah is renovating.
Through NSP, New Pisgah hopes to rehab 70 units of affordable housing in the next five years, many on Auburn Gresham blocks where the renovation of even a couple houses could make the difference between the area rebounding or sinking further into isolation and disrepair. Additionally, the church is involved with a state program that trains young men as apprentices, the first step to becoming more seasoned construction workers. The church claims to have contacts with many excellent local plumbers and carpenters, many of whom are out of work. NSP is putting them back on the clock.
“NSP is an unbelievable opportunity for people in our community,” Stan says. “It’s just a strong message of giving back by the government that says, ‘We haven’t forgotten you. We still cherish you.’
“People talk about the paperwork. But I don’t see that as a hindrance, I just see that as a process, a task. Because everything else in this program is so fair. They give us money for security. They didn’t have to do that. They could have said, ‘It’s on your own,’ or ‘Figure it out.’ But everything they do is fair and generous.”
Rev. Wayne Smith at an Auburn Gresham building that New Pisgah is rehabbing.
“We take a house and really turn it around and improve the neighborhood,” said Rev. Wayne Smith. “That shows the neighbors that somebody’s trying to fix up the community and I think that goes a long way.”
“I think it inspires people,” Stan says. “Now we got to figure out the sales portion. We gotta be able to get the people in the community into these houses.”
They’ve started marketing the houses through the church and have put 5,000 flyers in Sunday bulletins and in storefronts around the neighborhood. And they’ve been getting the word out to other churches in Auburn Gresham, too.
Rev. Wayne Smith, left, and his brother, Stan.
It’s been slow going so far, but there are reasons for hope. Months ago Stan talked to a woman who worked in the loan department at a local bank. She was interested in buying a house but was worried that she was going to lose her job. Now, he says, she’s finally feeling secure in her job, and can start considering buying a home again. And with any luck, she’ll buy a local home, developed by a local institution.
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