Developers See Opportunities in Greater Grand Crossing
To real estate developer Maurice Williams, the property at hand is often the least interesting thing about a potential deal. “I’m looking at everything but that house,” he says. “I’m looking at what it looks like three blocks from the house. I need to know what context it sits in.”
In his case, the context often is Greater Grand Crossing, the South Side neighborhood where Williams runs Revere Properties with his partner, Lee Reid Jr. It’s a neighborhood that saw millions of dollars in investment for several years, beginning in the late 1990s, but recently has been hit hard by foreclosures.
Maurice Williams and Lee Reid Jr. in Grand Crossing
The neighborhood had been pulling itself up by its bootstraps – with a little help from its friends. Grand Crossing sits near famed monuments of the South Side’s prosperous past, like the elegant South Shore Cultural Center. But by the ’90s, poverty and blight had taken their toll. That’s when Lands’ End founder and Grand Crossing native son Gary Comer decided to invest millions to turn the neighborhood around.
Comer wanted to help his alma mater, Paul Revere Elementary School, but, along the way, became convinced of the need for a comprehensive neighborhood-wide approach. That led to a multimillion-dollar youth center; new block clubs and community gardens; a re-tooled, high-tech elementary school; and other new infrastructure and institutions.
Revere Properties was another result. The company has worked with one of Comer’s enterprises, the Comer Science and Educational Foundation, to build affordable housing near the school. Thus far, Revere has constructed more than 60 new homes, with more on the way.
The neighborhood has changed from the inside out in the past several years, says Williams. Now, it’s developing a great reputation.
“Greater Grand Crossing is coming to be known as the affordable place to be,” Williams says. It’s generating a buzz heard by potential homebuyers beyond its borders. The reaction of those outsiders – who have bought many of Williams’ homes – has been, “‘I need to get into this while I can,’” he said.
Despite all the progress in the neighborhood, foreclosures are a big problem. Greater Grand Crossing is one of 25 neighborhoods in Chicago eligible for federal grant money under the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.
To get on that list, it had a lot of bank-owned foreclosed properties and high unemployment. It also met other criteria.
Today's foreclosures are tomorrow's affordable homes, say Williams and Reid.
The foreclosure problem means potential buyers looking at the neighborhood may very well make the same calculation that Williams makes as a developer – what is the context? The number of foreclosures has become a business problem for Revere.
Williams wants to use the stabilization grant money to rehab as many of the bank-owned properties, known as REOs in the trade, as he can.
“As we’re building all this housing, there are houses foreclosing,” he says. “We can’t NOT do this.”
Some REOs are on blocks where Revere is building new homes. When it comes to selling homes Williams says, “There is no such thing as a diamond in the rough.”
Revere plans to close on a first batch of Neighborhood Stabilization Program homes by year’s end. Late next summer, Williams hopes to have four homes ready to sell; he wants to maintain that inventory level over three years.
The rehabbed homes will be priced up to 30 percent less than Revere’s new homes. Williams envisions a mix of deals, such as lease-to-own, along traditional sales.
Although Revere is a for-profit outfit, Williams says he wants to do what’s best for the community. After all, he didn’t think of the neighborhood simply as a place to make a “bunch of money.”
"Lee and I see the value of what we have done here and want to finish the mission Gary Comer started and make it a reality.”
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