Community Investing

A news story caught my eye this morning: One Man’s Fight Against Foreclosure in Carpentersville.

Tom Roeser, president and co-owner of Otto Engineering, the largest employer in Carpentersville, Illinois is a great example of local investing.  When the hard times hit, the foreclosures began, and then were followed by abandonment, graffiti, gang tagging and property destruction –  he took action.

He started buying the foreclosures.   If they were run down, he fixed them up.

His reasoning?

“I couldn’t afford for Carpentersville to become Detroit”.

He also didn’t want potential customers turned off by the foreclosures and crime when they came to visit.

His approach to saving his own business has resulted in helping to save his community –

Why does his approach work?

“Typically, he buys a foreclosure for around $40,000 and puts $100,000 to $120,000 into rehabbing it and getting it market ready, including real estate commissions, holding costs and taxes. He then sells the place through Homes by Otto, for about $160,000. He does not expect to profit.

“The plumbers make money, the electricians make money, everybody makes money and the people get a new home at cost,” he said. “I come out of it whole.”

Many of the properties are either rented or sold at cost to one of the 500 employes who work at Otto Engineering – In exchange for getting a home at cost, Roeser asks they keep the exterior looking good –

Here’s the quotes from Ed Ritter, village president:

“It’s been quite a catalyst,” said Ritter. “Every neighborhood in which he has bought and rehabbed homes seems to prosper. Other homeowners see what he has done and improve their own homes.”

And deputy police chief, Michael Kilbourne”

“Crime has gone down too.  Incidents are less common and there are fewer broken windows and smashed fences, less trash and graffiti”


Mr. Roeser approached many organizations for help when the first foreclosed properties started deteriorating – including Habitat for Humanity – no one would help.

What I love most about this story is nowhere in the article is Mr. Roeser made out to be the wealthy philanthropist who is using his great fortune to ‘trickle down’ to the working poor through grande expansions of his business.

He’s doing what’s in his best interest to do.   But the way in which he pursues his best interests, takes  his community along with him…

This is the kind of actions we need for Community Rehabilitation – not handouts or charity – but thriving businesses to work at or thriving communities to start a business in.   Work to do and housing that is affordable and seen as part of the community infrastructure, not a ‘sky’s the limit’ investment option.

I’ll probably never meet Tom Roeser – but I shall never forget his story.