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EAST CHICAGO — The state's housing authority is seeking nonprofits to help with the development and sale of six single-family homes in the West Calumet neighborhood — the site of a demolished lead- and arsenic-contaminated public complex.

The Environmental Protection Agency has yet to approve a cleanup plan for West Calumet, one of three neighborhoods in the USS Lead Superfund site.

The Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority announced this week the agency is requesting qualifications from financially viable nonprofits with experience in affordable housing construction and management in the area.

IHCDA is making $700,000 available for construction of six homes, while the city is providing $350,000 toward the project. 

The selected respondent will work with IHCDA and the city of East Chicago to acquire properties, develop a site plan and construct units.

The nonprofit also will work with IHCDA to design a program to best assist eligible home buyers for either direct purchase, or to enter into a lease purchase program. Each buyer will be provided with buyer education and housing counseling.

Households that earn up to 80 percent of the area median income will qualify for purchase or leasing of the homes, records show. 

The selected nonprofit also must create a revolving loan fund for additional leased housing in the city, and provide self-sufficiency support for potential home buyers, according to IHCDA's Request for Qualifications documents. 

“We are pleased to continue our efforts to identify and encourage the development of affordable housing in East Chicago,” IHCDSA executive director Jacob Sipe said in a news release. 

'Shared vision' for neighborhood 

Once the units are sold, the proceeds must be retained in a revolving loan fund to develop more affordable housing in the city, prioritizing the West Calumet neighborhood, according to IHCDA. 

The nonprofit also will oversee a stakeholder engagement strategy, providing guidance and coaching on neighborhood planning to residents and developing a shared vision for the area, according to IHCDA.

The process will help identify priorities for quality and diverse housing options, access to education for all ages, and new economic development and job training opportunities as well as any other priorities defined by residents, according to IHCDA. 

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East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland said he is looking forward to working with IHCDA, the awarded nonprofit and neighborhood stakeholders "on the development of a formal framework to build capacity in the West Calumet neighborhood."

Earlier this year, the city enlisted the Lake County Economic Alliance, a countywide economic development group, to solicit commercial/industrial project proposals at the site.

In response, Impact Environmental, a firm tied to the nearby DuPont site cleanup, expressed interest in developing West Calumet into a logistics center with distribution, storage, office and job training facilities. 

Cleanup scope under evaluation

Attorneys and environmental activists have criticized EPA in recent months for its preferred site cleanup plan for West Calumet, saying it restricts housing opportunities because the plan only excavates down to 2 feet.

Indiana law requires a dig of at least 3 feet for a home’s foundation. EPA staff has argued such development can happen, but additional protective, steps must be carried out at an expense when excavating past 2 feet. 

During EPA's public comment period for the West Calumet cleanup, an agency representative said Friday it became aware of a number of redevelopment proposals, included commercial redevelopment such as a job training center in West Calumet and affordable housing in neighborhoods to the east.

Many residents have expressed opposition to commercial and industrial development in the West Calumet site. 

Based on public comments from Copeland, the future use of West Calumet remains residential, EPA said.

EPA did not say when a decision would be made on the cleanup scope for West Calumet, only that it remains under evaluation. 

Tia Cauley, a board member with the Managed East Chicago Housing Authority, the city housing authority's nonprofit arm for redevelopment, could not immediately be reached for comment.

At community meetings over the past year, Cauley has referenced plans for more affordable housing in the Superfund site. It's unknown if MECHA will apply for this project. 

Nonprofits have until 4 p.m. on Aug. 19 to apply. A final selection will be made Sept. 3. 

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Northlake County Reporter

Lauren covers North Lake County government, breaking news, crime and environmental issues for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.