Brownfield Role of Non-Profits

The Role of Non-Profits

Because of the potential of brownfield redevelopment to bring about change in a neighborhood or community, several non-profit organizations are dedicated to clean-up and revitalization efforts in the region. They serve as connections between under-staffed, high-need communities and the available government programs and interested private investment. They fill the role of "deal-maker," working to get the players to the table, and thinking creatively to find solutions (Greenwood conversation, March 2008). In addition, non-profits can provide valuable technical expertise, needed to navigate through complex regulatory and financing scenarios, and to sufficiently promote and market an available site.

Furthermore, these groups have the opportunity to think beyond the immediate issues of a redevelopment project and work towards loftier goals. The South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association (SSMMA), for example, is working to prevent brownfields from returning in the future. They are developing energy and environmental design guidelines for industries going into redeveloped sites (Greenwood conversation, March 2008). Bethel New Life, Inc., a faith-based non-profit in the region, has gotten involved in brownfield redevelopment as an opportunity to create affordable housing, and advocates for more residential redevelopment in areas of highest need, which are largely ignored by the private sector because of the lower returns on investment.

Delta Institute The Delta Institute – An Active Non-Profit Brownfield Redeveloper in the Region

Delta Institute, a non-profit organization formed in 1998, has a mission to integrate economic development and environmental protection that will benefit disadvantaged communities. Brownfield redevelopment is one key area where they provide expertise. Approximately 50% of their service provision falls into the category of technical assistance, which is usually funded by grants, and includes activities such as training, advisory, and programming. The other 50% of their services are between Delta Redevelopment Funds (~20%), which is a separate Community Development Financial Institute (CDFI) that makes loans to businesses and communities, and as a development partner (~30%), which means that they own a few development sites, and anchor real estate deals by managing the assessment and clean-up process, as well as finding new users for the properties after clean-up.

Delta has had projects in the region that include the communities of Blue Island, North Lawndale, South Chicago Avenue, and Waukegan, all areas where issues such as disinvestment, poverty, and home ownership are compounded with the impact of existing brownfields. Delta Institute reaches out to help these communities. Their clients are usually local governments, community organizations, as well as private property owners and potential buyers of property.

Similar to many other non-profits, the biggest limitation that the Delta Institute faces is consistent funding, this fuels community reinvestment and development in areas that would otherwise be de-prioritized. Additionally, in 2008, Delta Institute was given the leadership role as a member of the National Brownfield Nonprofit Network Initiative, to build a network for other organizations like themselves around the country to share information and promote federal changes to brownfield programming.

Some Local Programs in the Region

In addition to the state and nation-wide efforts to redevelop brownfields, our region boasts several local programs. Municipalities and their local brownfields programs play a critical role in the process of redevelopment. Local governments can work to make sites more attractive to private investment by assessing the property and determining the level of clean-up necessary, or actually cleaning up the property. They might need to step in and condemn and take a property to do this. Or municipalities can rezone a property, or create a TIF district or other economic incentive to redevelop. Oftentimes, municipalities will assemble properties to make them more attractive for redevelopment. These types of strategies often require technical expertise, funding, and staff support. But they can be extremely beneficial, helping create an environment where brownfield redevelopment is just as viable an option as other types of development. The following describes some local efforts in the region.

City of Chicago

The City of Chicago has had overwhelming success with its brownfields redevelopment efforts, initiated in 1990 with a $2 million investment of General Obligation Bonds to create a "Brownfields Pilot." The pilot project was a resounding success, which was leveraged into a larger initiative through a combination of Section 108 loan guarantees from HUD, Showcase Community funds from US EPA, and other sources. The Brownfields Initiative tackled the environmental assessment of more than 30 sites, and worked to acquire them through negotiated purchase, lien foreclosure, or tax reactivation on delinquent property. The city enrolls nearly all its sites in the SRP. The program is coordinated through the City's Departments of Planning and Development, Environment, Law, and Office of Management and Budget, as well as coordination with the Departments of Buildings, Housing, Transportation, Chicago Park District, and others. The program works to make brownfields redevelopment as attractive as developing any other property, and has been extremely successful in marketing its sites. Furthermore, any city-funded site must meet additional "Chicago standards" – additional environmental criteria. If certain levels of sustainability elements are included, the site can receive expedited permit review. Because of this additional emphasis on redeveloping brownfields to create open space, housing, and other amenities, Chicago is often referred to as a model nationwide.

Village of Riverdale

The Village of Riverdale is a small community in southern Cook County with an estimated population of less than 20,000 residents which has suffered from a lack of new investment since the decline of the region's industrial base. Unemployment hovers at 20%, and the village has seen a decline in population. However, Riverdale has a very critical point of interest: the Metra Electric line stop at 144th Street. Since this is a prime location for both pedestrian and vehicle traffic, it has attracted potential development for the area. Additionally, Riverdale is near the Midway Airport and The Dan Ryan (I-94), Tri-State Tollway (I-294), and I-57, offering substantial transportation opportunities. There has been a strong interest in redeveloping Riverdale to stimulate economic and community benefits for the City and its neighboring suburbs.

However, like many other industrial suburbs of Illinois, Riverdale has numerous brownfield locations – over 200 sites were evaluated by the US EPA in May 2000. The US EPA selected Riverdale to administer grant funds on behalf of itself, South Chicago Heights, Lansing, Posen, Chicago Heights, and the SSMMA. SSMMA managed the project, which included brownfield assessments and inventories for all partners. This project led to over $1.4 million in US EPA funding to SSMMA for similar work in Riverdale and the area. Additional funding has come from community grants from private companies.

Riverdale has partnered with the South Surburban Chicago Brownfields Coalition in their efforts as well as a non-profit group named Greater Riverdale Industrial Partnership (GRIP). GRIP was formed for the purpose of brownfield redevelopment in Riverdale and is a partner of the Delta Institute.

City of Blue Island

The City of Blue Island, in southern Cook County, has a rich history of industry, an extensive transportation infrastructure, and many inherent quality of life assets. In 2005, the City of Blue Island began a collaborative effort with the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) to create a redevelopment plan for the downtown and surrounding area. A major focus of the redevelopment plan is to implement transit-oriented development to better utilize the infrastructure and available opportunities. However, like many communities in the region, much of the land that can be more beneficially utilized in Blue Island requires environmental remediation in order to be redeveloped. Blue Island's experience with redevelopment of brownfields was very limited prior to the development of this plan, and municipal staff recognized this and applied for assistance from US EPA. In 2007, Blue Island was awarded $200,000, and in 2008, another $400,000 in funds to complete approximately over 50 assessments. These funds will help target transit-oriented development (2007 award) and cargo-oriented development (2008 award) on identified sites. Further research will help identify which sites should then be selected for a Phase II assessment and redevelopment plans. This effort is a collaboration with multiple external entities, including the non-profit, Delta Institute, and the private environmental consultant firm, V3. The City recognizes that coordination and expertise are necessary to help make the project a success.

City of Waukegan

The City of Waukegan is a large municipality in Lake County. Much of its growth is being spurred by an increasing Hispanic population, which was estimated at 45% of the total population of Waukegan in 2005. Waukegan is located about 40 miles north of Chicago and is along the shore of Lake Michigan. One of its key attractions is the city's deep-water harbor which provides shipping access to the St. Lawrence Seaway for a number of large corporations, and is the base for a vibrant fishing and sailing industry.

As an older industrial port, Waukegan has many abandoned properties dispersed throughout the city area, and some are brownfields. In the particular areas where these underused properties are located there is a noticeable deterioration in these neighborhoods, which has been a factor in attracting redevelopment. The US EPA saw the opportunity for economic, environmental and community redevelopment in Waukegan and selected the city for a $200,000 brownfield pilot in 1998. In 1999, two more sites were assessed by the IEPA using US EPA section 128(a) funds.

In addition to the EPA Brownfields grant, in June 2002 Waukegan also received EPA USTfields funding through the State of Illinois/EPA. USTfields funds are used for assessing and cleaning up petroleum contamination from federally-regulated underground storage tanks (USTs) at idle or abandoned commercial properties. Petroleum contamination has historically been excluded from funding under Superfund, but these pilots receive up to $100,000. For this pilot, the City of Waukegan is required to work directly with the State.

In addition, the City shares a $3.5 million clean-up grant under EPA's Brownfields Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund program with the Illinois Coalition, which includes the State of Illinois and the cities of Canton, East Moline, Freeport, Galva, and Lacon.

Do you have an example of a brownfield redevelopment project in your community?