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Juanita Irazarry’s Remarks

Thank you for the opportunity to say a few words on the importance of today’s announcement. The Chicago Community Trust, where I work, was honored to be one of the philanthropic organizations invited to serve on Attorney General Madigan’s Advisory Council for this historic initiative.

The Advisors and I took our responsibilities very seriously during the past 7 months, and will continue to do so throughout the remainder of this program. During the review process, we discussed, debated and challenged each other to ensure that our final recommendations truly reflected the Attorney Generals vision and the Evaluation Criteria included in the original Request for Qualifications and Proposals for Housing Counseling and Community Revitalization. Our discussions were always frank and dynamic, and I know we all stand proudly behind the end results.

Housing redevelopment of this magnitude is incredibly complex, even if you’re “only” looking at it from a real estate and finance perspective. But as Antonio Riley described earlier, the Attorney General and her Advisors were committed to improving housing conditions, yes, but also to neighborhood revitalization and to supporting the many people in neighborhoods affected by the foreclosure crisis statewide.

What I’d like to particularly focus on this morning is the range of ways individuals and traditionally underserved populations are indeed being served through today’s announcement. Overall, it’s worth noting, that lower-income homebuyers have long been underserved due to funding shortages in housing counseling and financial literacy. In fact, housing counseling agencies statewide took big funding hits in the early days of the foreclosure crisis, just when the world was waking up to the importance of this kind of financial literacy. But thanks to new state legislation recently passed in Illinois and other public and private sources becoming available, additional housing counseling resources now exist in Illinois for nonprofit organizations working directly with families helping them move from foreclosure to housing stability.

Still, it is worth noting that all of the community revitalization grants announced today have a housing counseling element folded into the strategy, so that there is appropriate outreach and support provided to attract and prepare the end buyers and renters. This connection between families and homes is critical for successful communities to thrive and, perhaps surprisingly, this connection is not always made.

Our evaluation criteria looked carefully at the expertise and track record of all the applicants not only in terms of their ability to serve the targeted populations, but also in terms of their networking in broader community-based efforts to link housing strategies with jobs, public safety, economic development and other priorities. There are a number of stand alone counseling and expert awards that reach currently underserved populations – people for whom English is not their first language, for example, and even the renters and condo associations often forgotten as victims of the foreclosure crisis right alongside homeowners.

A number of grantees are also providing housing or counseling services to people with disabilities, veterans and other special needs populations. Several of the “expert awards” will further provide training and technical assistance to ensure that all awardees are familiar with the latest resources and “best practices’ for providing open and inclusive communities.

While a number of the revitalization grants include some housing specifically for veterans or people with disabilities, I want to particularly call out the counseling, outreach, training and technical assistance of such groups as St Louis and Chicago area Urban Leagues, Spanish Coalition for Housing, Latino Policy Forum, the Resurrection Project, the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance, Corporation for Supportive Housing, Access Living, Chinese American Service League, and even Rogers Park CDC, which is representing a coalition of eight agencies serving distinct language and cultural groups (Bosnian, Cambodian, Chinese, Ethiopian, Herzegovinian, Korean, Laotian, and South Asian communities.)

At the Trust, we are very committed to cultivating community-based leadership, to addressing challenges at the right scale—often crossing traditional community and municipal boundaries—and to ensuring that we are affirmative in reaching underserved populations.

I thank the Attorney General for her commitment to these principles as well, and to her leadership initially fighting for—and now following through with—the National Foreclosure Settlement.