MacArthur Awards for Creative & Effective Institutions

Southwest Organizing Project

Chicago, Illinois | 2013 Award Recipient

Empowering neighbors to transform communities

In one of Chicago’s most violent areas, gangs and abandoned buildings put communities on the edge of collapse. In such environments, it is easy for problems to seem insurmountable, for hopes of change to be dim. Yet one small organization has shown that a different reality is possible.

By bringing together local leaders across racial, ethnic, and religious lines and turning fearful residents into agents of change, Southwest Organizing Project is empowering entire communities to create safe, hopeful neighborhoods.

Where boarded-up houses, foreclosures, and illegal guns are common, Southwest Organizing Project has pioneered ways to develop strong, connected communities that can transform neighborhoods. A coalition of faith congregations, businesses, and schools, the organization has created unity among diverse people to counteract the negative forces once seen as out of their control.

Southwest Organizing Project was an early leader in fighting predatory lending practices and the inevitable foreclosures that were harming families and turning neighborhoods into tracts of boarded-up buildings. Organizers built teams of resident leaders who visited public places and knocked on thousands of doors, reaching nearly every at-risk borrower in the area with information about foreclosure prevention and assistance. As a result of this saturation effort, Southwest Organizing Project prevented nearly 500 foreclosures and initiated an innovative plan to bring vacant properties back on the market. The work earned the group a meeting with the U.S. Department of the Treasury and an invitation from the U.S. Senate to speak about foreclosure prevention and mitigation strategies to be used across the country.

In addition to helping families stay in their homes, Southwest Organizing Project applies its model of community development to help decrease gun violence, increase parent engagement in local schools, and help immigrant families succeed. Their work has rejuvenated neighborhoods across Chicago, ensuring that hundreds of thousands of people live in safer, healthier communities.

Despite saving hundreds of buildings from being abandoned, Southwest Organizing Project lacks a building of its own. The group will use its $750,000 MacArthur Award to purchase and renovate a building for its offices, build its technology capability, and create a fund to enable its leaders to learn from similar community organizing efforts in other cities.

Grantee Profile: Learn more about Southwest Organizing Project

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