How the Wieboldt Foundation is Turning Project Tenants Into Civic Leaders

Tanya Hamilton, a project housing resident, can safely return home from the grocery store in her wheelchair thanks to the new ADA ramp and crosswalk installed in her neighborhood. Residents of the low-income Major Jennings and Delmar apartment buildings successfully ran a kid-centric booth with bean bag tosses and art projects at a neighborhood market. And support-housing tenants in crime-ridden Englewood spent two days selling snow cones and circulating flyers about affordable housing options at an annual music festival.

This is all the work of Mercy Housing Lakefront's Tenant Leadership Project, which aims to turn low-income project housing residents into Chicago's next generation of civic leaders. The project has been gaining a fair bit of traction with local philanthropies that see it as a great step in the right direction. In December 2013, the Wieboldt Foundation awarded a $15,000 grant to support programs operated by the Tenant Leadership Project. (Read Wieboldt Foundation: Chicago Grants). The Archdiocese of Chicago also announced at $15,000 grant of its own for the cause. 

Mercy Housing Lakefront is one of the largest nonprofit affordable housing development companies in the Midwest. It manages 27 properties that serve nearly 4,000 residents, and aims to build new homes, create new jobs, and end homelessness for thousands of people in the area. Mercy started the Tenant Leadership Project as a way to pull potential leaders out of adversity to get things done for their families and neighbors. The project focuses on things like transportation, food security, voter registration disability rights, affordable housing and employment.

It can be challenging to organize and motivate this particular demographic in Chicago. However, this is exactly the type of program local grantmaker Wieboldt loves to see. Most Wieboldt contributions are in the $10,000 to $20,000 range, so the foundation's support of this tenant program comes as no surprise. This is how Wieboldt describes its program priorities:

  • Rehabilitate/produce housing for low-income citizens.
  • Promote community economic development that is accountable to local residents.
  • Create/support neighborhood-based business ventures.
  • Increase local ownership of financial resources and access to other investors.
  • Provide employment opportunities for local residents.

Low-income housing tenants want to thrive, and they know firsthand what the people in their buildings need to survive. Mercy's innovative tenant project has been successful so far, but more tenant leaders are needed to make a big impact in Chicago's struggling communities. The Weiboldt Foundation seems to have its finger on the pulse of community innovation, and each one of these grants is helping move it forward.