Property Management/Raising Lazarus and a Black Community


This chapter is introduced with how poor property management can affect a neighborhood—the neighborhood where Anthony and I live. We feature a powerful story of how Martin Yuson, the neighborhood association president at the time, mobilized neighbors to turn around this Section 8 property.  The introduction then focuses on how the Lawndale Community Church in Chicago began in the heart of a very low income Black disenfranchised community. This church later birthed a community development corporation. They essentially “managed” the property in their community by eventually refurbishing, restoring and building multi-millions of dollars of housing and making the units affordable. But at the same time they are developing the character, instilling pride and empowering the people, as they take on this work themselves. Once some of the first multifamily units were finished, they came to the realization that they could manage their properties better than their hired property management company.

The church started in a weight room, where Coach Wayne Gordon, who is white, led Bible studies. As the kids came to Christ, he sent them out to find a church. Eventually these kids (and God) convinced Wayne to be their pastor. With no pastoral training, but aware that a church is to be a blessing to the community, he sent them out to discover local needs. A place to washing clothes was on the list. So they prayed, and that weekend a suburban church delivered a wash machine. With increased faith, they kept responding to needs. Today, Lawndale Community Church has transformed their community. One of their secrets to success: No one can be a member unless they live in Lawndale. Soon within this target area, there will be “no poor among them” (Acts 4).

The church has gone on to become a model and leader in Christian Community Development by transforming many sectors of Lawndale society: developing a high quality medical clinic, the local schools athletic department, job creation, and on and on. Here’s one example: with no sit-down restaurants in the community, they worked with the owners of Lou Maldonado’s Pizza to tithe their tenth restaurant to them, opening one of their famous restaurants on the church property. The men from the church’s Hope House recovery home ministry train to work there.

In this chapter, Richard Townsell aptly tells his own story of faith, how he was mentored by Coach Wayne Gordon, and later his own battle with God as he was challenged to take on the directorship of their housing ministry. Richard beautifully recounts a major shift in how they would do business, rather than have volunteers and white folks from outside the community come in to help; they would create well paid jobs for Blacks in the community to do this work. The story zeros in on one building that was so bad, it essentially “raised from the dead,” so they called it the Lazarus Apartments.  Upon completion, they realize the challenges of church sponsored rental housing. Too many churches view their housing as only a “ministry” not seeing it also as a business, with the need for a plan and a solid long term flow of capitol, high standards for tenancy and maintenance. Richard Townsell figured this out how to do both. He story also touches on his own theological transformation as the project was accomplished, policy ramification and how Lazarus is now being managed.

The project took a total gutting of the existing structures, costing over $3.5 million. Financial provision came through low-income housing tax credits and a second silent mortgage from the city, at zero percent interest. These financial tools provided some of the lowest rents in the city of Chicago. With clear intentionality, Black and Latino contractors, subcontractors, architects, environmental and insurance companies were utilized and paid at the prevailing wages (union scale), modeling the same philosophy as the Tabernacle Apartments, which went a step further utilizing a Black-owned bank.

Links & other Resources:

To learn more about the impressive scope of Lawndale’s housing and community empowerment ministries see:

Lawndale Consulting Services: (for strategic planning, Property Management, Single-Family Home Development, Church Construction Planning, and Community Technology Center Development

Real Hope in Chicago, By Wayne Gordon:

Chicago Rehab Network offered training and more:

Housing Partnership Network: