Sen. Durbin tours Evanston south side to see stimulus package at work

By:  Joseph Diebold
Daily Nothwestern

U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl visited the city's south side Friday to tour parts of the Eighth Ward that have received funding from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2.

The NSP2 was funded by the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which Congress passed in 2009 with the intention of stimulating the economy through job creation and temporary relief programs. The act included a $18.15 million appropriation for target areas in south and west Evanston.

Durbin praised the Evanston program and said he wished those of his colleagues who are critical of the stimulus bill could see the impact it had on communities in need.

"We're creating good, safe, affordable housing for people," Durbin said. "It's strengthening communities and neighborhoods across America and we're creating jobs in the process."

With the money, the city will purchase and rehabilitate 100 foreclosed or vacant housing units for rent or purchase by eligible residents. The city is also planning to purchase and redevelop vacant industrial property in west Evanston.

Sarah Flax, Evanston city housing and grants administrator, discussed the stimulus funds' role in building stronger, safer communities.

"Vacant homes are a magnet for trouble of all kinds," she said. "When we get them fixed up and occupied, it's good for the community."

Flax also emphasized the magnitude of change the federal funds could accomplish.

"We used to get on the average of $2 million a year to help our neighborhoods that are our low- and moderate-income," she said. "We might help 18 people through one of those programs. The opportunity to impact 100 units of housing that's been foreclosed is huge."

One community member who attended the tour was Eleanor Lord, whose southwest Evanston community has been revitalized by the federal funds.

Lord told Durbin her street, Grey Avenue, was recently able to hold its first-ever block party because of improvements made by NSP2.

"It was a blight on our neighborhood because I could see where houses were boarded and abandoned," Lord said. "With everything going on now, there is hope and there is a future for us."

Many of Durbin's fellow lawmakers have criticized the bill as unbridled government spending during a time calling for austerity measures. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who spoke at the Kellogg School of Management Friday, has been one of the most outspoken critics of the stimulus package.

"The stimulus failed to meet the Democrats' promise to create jobs and get our economy back on track," Cantor said in a statement in February. "We cannot afford to continue to gamble away our children's future and back more government-sponsored stimulus efforts."

Durbin, who was able to meet with several construction workers for whom the bill provided employment at one NSP2 site, disagreed.

"The next time one of my colleagues gets up and starts railing about the stimulus, I'm going to tell them the story of Grey Avenue in Evanston, Illinois," he said.

Tisdahl emphasized to Durbin her overwhelming support for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and continued stimulus funding.

"If anyone tells you the stimulus didn't work, come see Ms. Tisdahl," she said.