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VOA Turns Vacant Lot Into Beautiful New Housing In Englewood, And One Veteran Is Thrilled To Move In

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Chicago is home to thousands of vacant lots, and those empty spaces can be unsightly to say the least.

On Tuesday morning, a celebration of a solution is planned. Mayor Lori Lightfoot will honor the organization behind beautiful new housing in Englewood at 10:30 a.m.

Only our cameras were there to catch the first tenant's tour of his new home.

As CBS 2's Lauren Victory reported, you'll know it when the tenant, Ralph Liggins, has a good day. And it was a very good day when he saw that new home.

"Big freezer! Big mirror! This is fantastic!" Liggins said. "Come next week, I'm going to be in my own place. I'm trying to downplay my excitement."

The Air Force veteran has been living with family for 14 years.

"Child support and no job all came at the same time. I thought it was going to be easy to get back up on my feet. It wasn't that easy," Liggins said. "Now I'm walking into a brand newly constructed facility?"

Perseverance and patience brought Liggins and his daughter, along with Nancy Hughes Moyer, president of Volunteers of America Illinois, to this moment. The nonprofit picked out everything from floors to the paint color.

"I'm not a developer, I'm a social worker," Hughes Moyer said.

She is a social worker on a mission to fix Chicago's vacant lot problem. VOA took on the task of filling blight with bright homes – 16 of them to be built from scratch in the Englewood neighborhood.

"Really positive development that tells not only the people that are going to live here, but the people that live here that they're important and that they matter," Hughes Moyer said.

Rent will be at a reduced rate – affordable housing made possible by the low-income housing tax credit that covers about 80 percent of new construction costs. The rent is raised by VOA with a lot of corporate sponsors.

So why don't we see this more often?

"It's extraordinarily difficult and it can be incredibly frustrating," Hughes Moyer said.

But reactions like Liggins' make the headaches of permitting and paperwork worth it.

"For us as a human service organization, it's all about people so for us it's easy to sustain the motivation to kind of keep driving through the obstacles," Liggins said.

Hughes Moyer believes this project is scalable in Chicago and beyond. But VOA, like Liggins, is taking it one day at a time.

This particular housing project at 59th and Green streets is called Hope Manor Village. The affordable apartments are intended for veterans who are also the focus of VOA Illinois' other Hope Manor developments in Englewood, Humboldt Park, and Joliet.


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