"We fulfilled a commitment, and that's important when you're using (public) funds," said Bridget Gainer, the Cook County Commissioner who chairs the land bank. "But more important is that 80 percent of these homes are returned to homeownership, and 65 percent of our developers are black and Latino, from the communities, so the money is recirculating in the neighborhoods we're working in."
Gainer said 26 students are on the program now, with a second wave of 26 set to arrive in January. All work Monday through Thursday, but then attend Harold Washington College, where they're obtaining associate degrees in business-related fields, she said.
"At the end of the year, they have a degree and a place in the company, and hopefully it will be a permanent place."
Gainer said participants were recruited through Harold Washington and groups such as the Urban League. Of the 26, 20 are Latino or African-American, and half are women, she said, all making around $30,000 a year, plus full fringe benefits and free tuition.
More than 4,400 vacant lots in Chicago and the suburbs are going up for sale in an effort to attract development to areas that need it.
With the new offering of vacant lots to be announced today, "we're trying to speed up the process of empty land being put back to use," said Bridget Gainer, a Cook County commissioner who chairs the four-year-old Cook County Land Bank.