Woodlawn East Community and Neighbors (WECAN) is a non-profit organization dedicated to serving Chicago’s Woodlawn community and its residents. WECAN was founded in 1980 by Ms. Mattie Butler after arsonists set fire to several buildings in the community, killing 13 children. That tragic incident catalyzed a group of residents to step up and claim a strong role in shaping a better present and future for Woodlawn.
Since 1980, WECAN has operated as a resource center for the Woodlawn community. The center connects residents with housing assistance programs, serves as a liaison to elected officials and other policymakers on housing and related issues, and acts as a property owner and developer of affordable housing. WECAN has refurbished four buildings, creating 145 units for those who are experiencing or nearly experiencing homelessness. It also provides other support services, such as serving a location for the Community Economic Development Association’s (CEDA) home energy and weatherization grant program and sponsors community-building initiatives, including afterschool programming. WECAN was also instrumental in drafting the City of Chicago’s Tenants Bill of Rights.
Even before the 2016 selection of Jackson Park as the home for the Obama Presidential Center (OPC), local nonprofit Woodlawn East Community and Neighbors (WECAN) recognized signs of change in Woodlawn’s housing market. Homeowners and renters with deep roots in the neighborhood were losing their homes to foreclosure or increased housing costs or struggling to make ends meet. Property taxes had risen, and housing assistance programs had been reduced or eliminated. Increasingly, residents observed outsiders buying up property. In 2016, as a participant in the University of Chicago Office of Civic Engagement (OCE)’s Community Programs Accelerator (CPA), WECAN sought help with data collection and analysis to objectively understand housing market conditions and trends, and help identifying additional factors that could impact the future of housing stability in Woodlawn. In response to WECAN’s request, the CPA offered to facilitate connections to a set of resources and partners who could assist with these efforts.
Until now, perceptions of neighborhood change have been largely anecdotal and based on resident observations. This project has resulted in extensive data collection and analysis, enabling WECAN to better understand Woodlawn’s current conditions, while also confirming some perceptions and identifying some unanticipated housing issues. The data and analysis also provide essential context and a solid foundation from which WECAN was able to develop a set of housing policy recommendations shared on this site.