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The Chicago Community Trust Outstanding Community Plan Award

Northwest Side Housing Center for Belmont Cragin Quality-of-Life Plan

While many of the more than two dozen Quality-of-Life Plans (QLPs) created by Chicago communities center on addressing the issues of population loss or regaining needed density of population, the issues that Belmont Cragin faced were quite different. 

Long a community of near-recent immigrants moving northwest along the Milwaukee Avenue corridor, between 1990 and 2013, Belmont Cragin saw a 41% jump in population, making it one of Chicago’s fastest growing communities – with many new immigrants joining those of previous generations. And with the spike and change in population came new challenges, from high rates of unemployment, crime, and poverty, to low rates of high school graduation. 

In the summer of 2014, residents of Belmont Cragin took the future of their community into their own hands. Led by the Northwest Side Housing Center (NWSHC) and supported by LISC Chicago, they convened a planning process to create the Belmont Cragin Quality-of-Life Plan. More than 600 residents and 30 community institutions came together in small groups, large groups, community meetings and bilingual public meetings to chart their own path in the first resident-led effort of its kind on the Northwest Side of Chicago. Members of NWSHC, residents and organization leaders all served as co-chairs for various subcommittees, sharing mutual responsibility and accountability in the QLP. 

The result? The publication in 2016 of a comprehensive set of goals, strategies and programs to address the need for affordable housing, business and jobs creation, educational improvements for youth and improvement of health for both youth and adults. Realization of that Plan has leveraged an estimated $184 million in investments, which have already resulted in a Federally Qualified Health Center, affordable rental housing for seniors, a youth leadership council, a new public elementary school, improvements to a high school athletic field and most important – an empowered community ready for the future. 

“Our goal was to change people’s lives, to bring them together,” said NWSHC Executive Director James Rudyk. “And that’s what the plan did – it said no matter who you are, you are part of this community, your voice matters and you are going to be a decision-maker for what happens in your life.”