Former mayor Frank Pasquale doesn’t mince words when talking about the 7 percent population slide Bellwood suffered between 2000 and 2010: “I thought, Holy shit, what’s going on here?”
Pasquale, who served from 2001 to 2017, repeatedly heard that the small, aging houses that accounted for much of the housing stock in his suburb of 19,000 weren’t big enough for growing families, who were departing for places like Hillside and Naperville. At the same time, the village had a surplus of property: It had bought more than 60 parcels in a failed development play prior to the housing crash, leaving it saddled with $40 million in debt.
So the village came up with a solution to both problems: It has become a developer itself, building on some of those empty lots homes meant to encourage families to stay in or move to Bellwood. In May, the village will wrap up construction on Englewood Estates, one of three developments it has built over the past six years along Bellwood and Englewood Avenues and Randolph Street.
Twenty houses have been completed so far. They have three bedrooms, range from 1,840 to 2,150 square feet, are situated on quiet residential streets and cul-de-sacs, and feature open floor plans and energy-efficient windows—in other words, the things buyers look for in a modest family home. All have already been sold, for $212,500 to $294,500—well above the $149,000 median sale price in Bellwood last year.
The houses aren’t fancy (unembellished brick and vinyl façades, standard granite countertops). And they are in Bellwood, which is more or less a bedroom community, save for a sprinkling of factories, with no thriving downtown. But with the developments, the village is taking a very literal approach to realizing its motto: “Your family is our future.”