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Ted SlowikDaily Southtown
A new report by Pew Charitable Trusts finds that five communities with the nation’s highest rates of black homeownership are located in the south suburbs.
Olympia Fields — where 98 percent of black residents own their homes — tops the list. Four other towns in the top 10 nationally are South Holland, Flossmoor, Matteson and Lynwood.
Municipal leaders are reacting to the report with pride, saying the data prove the success of programs that promote inclusion and highlight benefits of diversity.
“I think it bodes well for the southern end of the (Chicago) metropolitan area,” Olympia Fields Village President Sterling Burke said. “There is more word of mouth that this is a great place to live. This is a destination that people want to share.”
Longtime South Holland Mayor Don De Graff said the report reflects deliberate commitment to diversity by village leaders, residents, business owners, civic groups, churches, schools and Realtors.
“We took a strong approach to diversity back in the 1970s and 1980s,” De Graff said. “We passed the strongest fair housing ordinance in the nation.”
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 addressed block-busting, redlining, panic-peddling, racial steering and other practices that played upon fears amid “white flight” migration.
Since its founding in 1975, the mission of Homewood-based South Suburban Housing Center has been to eliminate discrimination in housing and foster diverse communities, executive director John Petruszak said.
“The challenge to this day is to encourage expansion of the market so we can attract whites who value living in diverse communities,” Petruszak said.
The Pew report, published Aug. 15, said the national rate of black homeownership remains near a 50-year low of just 41 percent. The national white homeownership rate is 71 percent.
Yet, the black homeownership rate is 85 percent in South Holland, 83 percent in Flossmoor and 80 percent in Matteson and Lynwood, according to Pew.
“I didn’t realize the nationwide rate of black homeownership is only 41 percent,” Flossmoor Mayor Paul Braun said. Flossmoor’s 9,500 residents are almost evenly split: 47 percent black and 46 percent white, he said.
Flossmoor and South Holland are among towns where policies embrace values of diversity. On Aug. 20, the Flossmoor Village Board adopted a set of “Guiding Principals for Diversity & Inclusion.”
“People of diverse backgrounds need to be included and represented in government,” the principles read, in part. “Village programs and events should offer a variety of activities that celebrate all cultures and allow residents to celebrate diversity, become more united, and learn from each other.”
De Graff, 67, said he was born and raised in South Holland and has served as mayor of the town of nearly 22,000 since 1987. He recalls how in the 1950s and 1960s, whites tried to keep out blacks migrating from Roseland, Englewood and other Chicago neighborhoods.
“There was a significant migration of African-Americans coming out of the city,” he said.
It took deliberate commitment by everyone in the village to convey the message that “blacks were welcomed and whites were encouraged to stay,” he said.
Petruszak shared a 10-page report he prepared for a White House conference on the foreclosure crisis in 2012. His report cited Census and demographic data that showed whites moved out of the south suburbs en masse during the 1990s.
“The white population of this area shrank dramatically from a majority of 62.6 percent in 1990 to 37.6 percent in 2000,” his report said.
Petruszak defined the south suburbs as 32 communities generally east of I-57 with a total population of 414,631. In 2012, the ratio was 60.7 percent black, 30.3 percent white and 12.9 percent Hispanic.
His paper for the White House conference cited other studies by Roosevelt University and Northern Illinois University that found “Chicago’s suburban communities continue to experience a high degree of racial separation.”
Another 23 communities directly west of the south suburbs make up an area known as the southwest suburbs, his report said. Only 6 percent of the 437,510 people in that region are black.
“These communities have been traditionally perceived to be ‘closed’ by African Americans,” the report said. Latinos and others account for nearly 16 percent of the population in the southwest suburbs.
The Pew report mentions concerns raised by mayors and fair-housing advocates that the south suburbs were among areas hit hardest in the nation by the foreclosure crisis.
“The subprime lending debacle dashed the homeownership dreams of many black families in suburbs less affluent than Olympia Fields,” the Pew report said.
Housing prices — even in communities like Olympia Fields — remain depressed in the wake of the housing-market collapse a decade ago.
“The south Cook (County) area had the highest rate of foreclosure, and this area has shown the slowest rate of recovery,” Petruszak said.
Data for July reported by the real estate information company RealtyTrac showed that of the more than 130 municipalities in Cook County, the five towns with the highest rates of foreclosure are in the south suburbs: Thornton, South Holland, Country Club Hills, Dolton and Matteson.
“We’re having a difficult time digging out,” Petruszak said, adding that Hazel Crest, Flossmoor and Olympia Fields also have recently topped RealtyTrac’s foreclosure reports.
Mayors offered other analysis about the Pew report that sheds light on why several south suburbs lead the nation in black homeownership rates. Burke and De Graff said Olympia Fields and South Holland have few multi-family housing units and that their communities consist mostly of single-family homes.
“We don’t have any rentals,” Burke said.
“We have no apartments, no condos — we’re all single-family homes,” De Graff said.
Petruszak said the South Suburban Housing Center’s work in recent years has expanded to help minority and low-income residents avoid predatory lenders.
“The current national mortgage foreclosure crisis has had devastating effects on the housing markets in many communities of the south suburbs where the correlation between the clustering of high-cost subprime lending and the high rates of defaults/foreclosures and areas of substantial minority homeownership is extremely dramatic,” his 2012 report for the White House conference said.