Now that COVID-19 has turned the world upside down, Luis Castro and his wife Marsha, co-owners of L&MC Investments, are determined now more than ever to pursue their mission of creating affordable housing in communities like Humboldt Park, Hermosa, Berwyn and East Garfield Park.
“This is the right time to create affordable housing for people,” said Luis Castro, president of L&MC investments, and a Humboldt Park resident. “With affordable housing, people might still be able to carry their mortgage and have a little bit left over.”
L&MC Investments is currently building 12 brand new affordable single-family homes in Humboldt Park through a partnership with the City of Chicago. And during the past five years, the company has also partnered with the Cook County Land Bank Authority to rehab vacant, abandoned properties. The company has rehabbed about five properties that it acquired from the Land Bank and is currently rehabbing a property in the Hermosa neighborhood.
“The Land Bank helps make things affordable,” Castro said. “They’re easy to deal with, and we’re able to close deals a lot faster. These programs are important. Otherwise, everybody would be priced out. People who have been renting a long time in these areas deserve to have an affordable house.”
The Cook County Land Bank Authority acquires properties that have sat tax‐delinquent, abandoned and vacant for years and sells them at below‐market rates to qualified community‐based developers, who then rehab the properties. The Land Bank recently released 250 new abandoned properties for sale on its website: http://www.cookcountylandbank.org/. In spite of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Land Bank is receiving more applications for its abandoned properties now – about 30 each day – from small developers like L&MC Investments than this time last year.
“Understandably, there’s a fair amount of trepidation among some small developers because of tighter lending criteria from banks, making it harder for small developers to get new loans to acquire property,” said Rob Rose, executive director of the Cook County Land Bank Authority. “But many of our developer clients are optimistic that transactions can move forward. The pandemic is not slowing down rehabs or new applications for our properties. For those small real estate developers who are well-capitalized, this economy presents a great opportunity to acquire property and revitalize communities.”
Castro said his company, which has redeveloped and built about 50 properties since its inception in 2007, will continue building up its rental pipeline and acquiring new properties for which they’ve already secured funding.
Although the pandemic has not slowed down Castro’s development work, it has impeded rent payments from some of his tenants. He owns four rental buildings in Humboldt Park and Ukrainian Village. “Some of my tenants have been laid off,” he said. “Some are behind paying rent. You have to be lenient with them. It’s a crisis. It’s not their fault. You can’t kick anybody when they’re down.”
In fact, Castro and his wife are finding ways to lift up their tenants and other people in their community. They’ll use a $5,000 grant they just received to buy toys for the children of their tenants who’ve been laid off, donate food to the Chicago Police Department’s Shakespeare District and homeless people in Humboldt Park and provide hand sanitizers and gloves to senior citizens.
Castro said that because both he and his wife grew up in working-class households, they are committed to giving back to their community. “We didn’t have the bells and whistles,” he recalled. “Our parents lived from paycheck to paycheck. We always said if we could, we’d give back. Affordable housing is really a way to give back.”