Austin community leaders and residents of the newly formed Poverty Action Campaign, a grassroots movement aimed to improve jobs, housing and education on the West Side, kicked off their first meeting Thursday.
The Poverty Action Campaign, which is in the process of forming a community manifesto, wants Austin residents to become energized and work together to take back what’s been lost in the community, said Virgil Crawford, one of the campaign’s leaders who works at the Westside Health Authority.
Poverty is prevalent in Austin due to a lack of jobs, the high number of foreclosed properties and a poor public education system, Crawford said to about 20 residents at the Jan. 19 meeting at HOPE Community Advent Christian Church, 5900 W. Iowa St.
“We’ve got to stop these foreclosures,” Crawford said.
“We’ve got to take these houses that are vacant and abandoned and do something with them that will begin to create opportunities for people to go back to work and to get back into these homes.”
Once the group has enough community support, it plans to target the big banks—JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo—that own a majority of the foreclosed properties in Austin and demand the houses be turned over to the neighborhood, said Elce Redmond of the South Austin Community Council Coalition.
Redmond, also a campaign leader, proposed the group go after those banks and say, “Here’s our plan, let’s take 15 of your houses—which are boarded up and abandoned and becoming eyesores in the community—and turn those buildings over to community groups.”
“The banks could hire people within the community to rehab those buildings, giving those folks not only and income, but also a trade and put those houses back on the affordable housing market,” Redmond said.
In addition to rehabbing homes, the Poverty Action Campaign will bring more jobs to the community through various state programs and initiatives, said the Rev. Mike Stinson, campaign leader and activist with Community Advocates for Viable Employment.
“I don’t see any real conversation that we’re having with the highest level of government and the highest level of corporate America about the right type of partnership with our community,” he said in remarks at the meeting.
The final area the Poverty Action Campaign will target in Austin is education. Members of the group want to see a community high school created at the former Brach’s Candy facility, at 401 N. Cicero Ave, that’s been vacant for almost a decade and includes “30 acres of prime property,” Crawford said.
“In the Austin community, the largest community in the city of Chicago, there is not high school where the students who live in this community are entitled to attend,” he said.
About 75 percent of the students who live the Austin community have to go outside the community for school, Crawford said.
Students have to “cross dangerous gang boundaries, encountering all kinds of violence and often times when they get to the school outside of the community, there is no real learning taking place there.”
Leaders of the Poverty Action Campaign said they will confront the city’s Board of Education for a new state-of-the-art high school campus that would incorporate academics, a football, baseball and track field and a cultural arts and performing center.
“The school isn’t going to happen until we decide it’s going to happen,” Crawford said.
“We’ve got to take action.”
The next Poverty Action Campaign meeting will be 6 p.m. tonight at the Westside Health Authority’s community kitchen, 5852 W. North Ave.
For more information about the campaign, please contact the Westside Health Authority. The number is 773-378-1878.
*Cover photo by Daisy Winfrey of Austin Weekly News