For those of you who have never heard of the Parkside Apartments or who are unfamiliar with our ministry there and the journey we have been on, here are a few posts to get you up to speed. In a nutshell, for about 8 years now, a small group of Christians from a few area churches have intentionally moved into this low-income apartment complex to live with and serve our neighbors. Parkside boasts about a dozen different nationalities, most of whom are refugees or other immigrants. As we build relationships with them, we are often overwhelmed by the blessings we receive in return and humbled by their gracious hospitality. Many of our neighbors come from vibrant Christian backgrounds and teach us more about our global body of Christ. My husband started the group there 8 years ago and I joined 3 years later. For us, the diverse, lively community that Parkside provides is about as close to heaven on Earth as you can come.
This past February, Parkside’s owners sold the complex to a huge real estate investment company called Windy City RE, LLC. Since their business model states they flip properties quickly for profit, we were worried about what this would mean for the residents of Parkside. At first, Windy City communicated that they were not kicking anyone out and that they would renew all leases. As people moved out, they would renovate the vacant units over the course of the next several years.
The renovated units are actually quite nice. They have granite countertops, new tile and chrome appliances, but the units still have issues with bedbugs, mold, insufficient parking, and structural deficiencies that make it unsafe for many of our residents. But even more disappointing, the renovated units will now rent for $900 for a one bedroom (with a limit of two people) and $1300 for a two bedroom (with a limit of four people). These elevated rent costs (much higher than similar apartments in the area) and occupancy limits disqualify most of our neighbors from applying to live in the renovated units.
As of mid-June, we found out that the management will no longer be renewing any current leases. When leases expire, tenants may pay month by month until they find another place to live or until the management serves them a 30-day notice to vacate the premises. Within the next year, as leases expire, all of our neighbors must find new places to live. This past week, at the end of June, a half dozen families started the exodus, some moving down the street, but most moving to Elgin or Aurora, or as far away as Nebraska or Texas.
After living here for five years, to say I am heartbroken by this slow disintegration of my community would be insufficient. When I moved into Parkside five years ago, I hadn’t been so passionate about or inspired by a place since I lived overseas. Over the next few years, I fell in love with my husband here, got married here, and we brought our first baby home here. This past year, as a stay-at-home mom, I’ve finally been able to bond with other women over the universal struggles of motherhood. Every day, hoards of kids from the four corners of the world knock on my door asking if my daughter, Zipporah, can come out to play. Zipporah is just one year old, so she doesn’t really play, but they love to push her around on her scooter or hold her hands and walk up and down the sidewalk. When Zipporah and I are getting restless sitting around the house, I just open the door and she has dozens of playmates, eager to come in and read books to her or play tea party. This is what I am lamenting most profoundly. I know my neighbors would echo this sentimental attachment as well. Not only does Parkside provide a safe community for them and their children, but it is the place they rebuilt their lives after escaping unspeakable horrors in their countries of origin. It may not be fancy, but for many, this is the first place they were able to call home in a long time.
I’ve known for a longtime that Parkside is a dilapidated old complex with lots of problems and I feel that nobody should have to live in apartment full of mold or pests. But the vibrant, accessible, hospitable, international community that fills the courtyards cannot be found elsewhere. Where else will Zipporah grow up learning Spanish, Swahili, and Burmese? Where will all my neighbors go? Will they be as safe, valued, and loved in another community? I must put these questions into God’s tender hands, and trust that He who brought many of my neighbors out of war, persecution, poverty, and many other extreme situations, will provide them a new place to live.
People have been asking how they can help. Here are a few ideas:
- There is still hope that Windy City will lower their rates and make the renovated units accessible to current residents. You could contact Windy City and tell to please consider that as a business plan.
- If you know of available, affordable apartments, especially in Glen Ellyn’s school districts, pass me the information so I can help my neighbors stay nearby.
- We are going to continue to do weekly Kid’s Clubs with the neighborhood kids as long as there are kids living here. We could use a few extra volunteers to help with that along with meals for our Sunday evening activities.
- Most of all pray. Pray for these families as they face displacement again. Pray for the mentally ill single men for whom relocating will be particularly difficult. Pray for the families on waiting lists to find new Section 8 housing. Pray for the large families who will have a hard time finding a place that will accommodate them. Pray for the undocumented families whose status disqualifies them from some places. Pray for the families who must move far from their extended family networks, since it is unlikely to find six or seven apartments so close together again. Pray for the people who must move far away from their jobs, that they will find work again. Pray for the kids who have to navigate a new school and make new friends. Pray for the kids moving to inferior school districts, losing the strong academic support they received here, that they won’t fall further behind. Pray for our neighbors with poor credit or poor rental history who may face homelessness. Pray that wherever they go, God will surround them with hospitable neighbors and a loving community.