Apr 10, 2024 - News

A public art project is repairing the damage of racist housing practices in Englewood

Photo of two people standing in front of a house

Gwen and Arthur Dishman in front of their home, which has received repairs through "unBlocked Englewood." Photo: Courtesy of Justin Olechiw

Artist and activist Tonika Lewis Johnson's "unBlocked Englewood" project is literally repairing the damage a racist housing practice, known as land sale contracts, has done to Chicago's Black neighborhoods.

Why it matters: Residents' lack of equity prohibited them from getting loans to perform necessary home repairs like patching a leaky roof, and it forced some to abandon their homes completely.

Flashback: In the 1950s and '60s, many Black residents looking to own a home were ensnared by predatory land sale contracts that required large down payments and high-interest monthly payments, without the equity and protections of a traditional mortgage.

How it works: Johnson has teamed up with the Chicago Bungalow Association (CBA) to perform deferred maintenance like repairing roofs and broken pipes for homeowners affected by land sale contracts on the 6500 S. Aberdeen block.

What they're saying: "Black homeowners not getting supported, Black neighborhoods in Chicago being disinvested in — that actually impacts all Chicagoans, despite race," Johnson tells Axios.

  • "Just imagine if all of the neighborhoods were truly invested in … we don't know where people would eventually move to in Chicago. It will just open up a whole new market of potential renters and homeowners."
Photo of a house
"UnBlocked Englewood" is repairing homes on the 6500 block of S. Aberdeen. Photo: Courtesy of Justin Olechiw

By the numbers: So far, the project has done repairs on 14 homes and plans to work on 10 more.

  • CBA's Carla Bruni tells Axios each home needs an estimated $65,000 of work, paid for through grants from the city and private companies.

Zoom in: While the practice affected neighborhoods mostly on the West Side, Johnson has been focusing her activism on Greater Englewood, where she grew up and still lives.

What's next: UnBlocked is also teaming up with Englewood Arts Collective to beautify the block with more landscaping, create a shaded seating area on the vacant lots and help decorate homes' interiors.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Chicago.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Chicago stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Chicago.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more