For decades, governments have favored rental housing for low-income Americans. North Lawndale is a test case of whether homeownership is a better bet.
Two single-family homes developed by Lawndale Christian Development Corporation sit along South Avers Avenue in the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago. (Joshua Lott/The Washington Post)
By Kyle Swenson
October 22, 2021 at 6:00 a.m. EDT
CHICAGO — For decades, North Lawndale has been slipping into weedy neglect.
In 1966, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. moved his wife and four children into a dilapidated apartment here to highlight housing inequalities in Northern cities. Nearly 50 years later, when writer Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote his influential essay, “The Case for Reparations,” he started with the story of a North Lawndale homeowner. Today, the poverty rate is twice that of the rest of Chicago, and more than 2,000 lots in the neighborhood are vacant, many with a clear view of the crowded downtown skyline.
But earlier this year, two houses were built on South Avers Avenue, part of a homegrown plan to challenge more than 40 years of public policy orthodoxy that has favored renting over owning for the working poor and instead use homeownership as an engine for economic stability.