The city is making it easier for neighborhoods to build up local businesses. A funding tool—the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund—was revamped to be more accessible.
The financing model is unique to Chicago, and it’s something experts say other city’s should replicate. Why? It offers equity that small business owners need to get started—the same small businesses that make neighborhoods exciting places to live. In Chicago, investment into neighborhoods hasn’t been equal and this initiative is aiming to fix that.
Launched in 2017, the fund provides capital to residents who need funding for purchasing property, rehabbing their storefronts or construction costs. Feedback from previous grant winners let the city know that even with the money, the process still had barriers.
Changes to the program were approved at City Hall on Wednesday. Mayor Lightfoot said, “We’ve changed the way we work with applicants, fully equipping them and giving them support from start to finish. These efforts were born from our broader efforts of expanding capital to neighborhoods and communities that desperately in need of it.”
Now, projects can be fully funded through the grant—previously it was capped at 65 percent of the total cost. Plus, grant winners can get up to 50 percent of their grant before construction starts to help cover appraisals, environmental surveys, and architectural services. This is a change from when grant winners were only able get money after construction.
“These reforms will make it easier for South and West side entrepreneurs to qualify for the program and make their dreams a reality,” said the Department of Planning and Development Commissioner Maurice Cox in a statement, who’s department administers the NOF program.
The fund serves as a key tool in the Department of Planning and Development’s Invest South West initiative. Announced last year, the plan will focus city funds on 10 neighborhoods and host conversations with residents to guide exactly what projects get accomplished in each area.
“The idea is to focus those funds, to focus like a laser on the areas that are most walkable and most viable within those communities so that residents can see the changes from their homes,” Cox said when Invest South West was announced earlier in October.
City officials hope the NOF will help develop these 10 neighborhoods and others on the South and West sides. A total of $30 million in grant funding will be accessible to applicants beginning in 2020 and over the next three years.