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Chicago’s Affordable Housing Dream Moving Ahead After 18 Years

Affordable housing is an elusive dream for thousands of low-income Chicago residents. That vision has been slowly moving ahead for the past two decades, regardless of what critics say.

After a long delay caused mostly by the Great Recession of 2008, vacant land on the Near South Side finally is being targeted for 900 mixed-income housing units at the former site of the Harold L. Ickes Homes public-housing development. Eleven Ickes high-rises containing 738 units were razed eight years ago.

The ambitious, three-phase plan for the new Southbridge community calls for construction of 770 apartments and 107 townhomes and condominiums on the site bounded by Cermak Road, Dearborn and State streets and the Stevenson Expressway, according to the developers, Community Builders and McCaffery Interests.

The $90-million first stage of the mixed-income community consists of two 6-story apartment buildings featuring 200 units—68 public housing units, 18 affordable rentals, and 114 market-rate apartments, plus 18 for-sale townhomes.

The plan, which would eventually create 244 public housing units, is scheduled for review by the Chicago Plan Commission on July 19th.

The site is near a new Green Line CTA station serving McCormick Place, where construction of new hotels and a DePaul University basketball arena is booming.

Southbridge is part of the Chicago Housing Authority’s 18-year-old plan to create 25,000 public housing units. Through June 30th of 2018 some 24,251 new or rehabilitated units have been completed on CHA land.

While the coming kick-start of Southbridge is a significant affordable-housing event in Chicago, housing analysts say now is the time to give former Mayor Richard M. Daley some long-overdue applause for his vision in launching the city’s first mixed-income community in 2000 at the infamous Cabrini-Green community on the southern border of the Old Town neighborhood.

On June 4th of 2000, Mayor Daley and top city housing officials hosted grand-opening ceremonies at North Town Village, the landmark $70-million, mixed-income residential community at 1401 N. Halsted St.

North Town Village was called a “prototype concept” in the revolution of urban housing—a flowing together of the housing needs of a diverse group of residents, from low-income to upper-income, according to co-developers Harold Lichterman of Kenard Corp. and Peter Holsten of Holsten Real Estate Development Corp.

“This is the future of public housing in Chicago,” Mayor Daley prophetically said. “We are breaking down barriers that have isolated public housing residents from the rest of society and creating a community that is integrated racially and economically.”

Today, the 7-acre North Town Village community, on Halsted and Evergreen streets immediately south of the intersection of North and Halsted, consists of 261 rental apartments, condominiums, stacked duplexes, coach houses and townhomes.

With the first 16 families moving into North Town Village in 2000, Mayor Daley thanked the developers for “creating a community that improves the residents’ quality of life.”

“North Town Village, its recreational facilities, and a nearby commercial district are all part of the Near North Redevelopment Initiative, originally announced by the city in 1991,” noted Holsten.

The plan involved razing the northern portion of Cabrini-Green, bordered by Halsted Street, Division Street, North Avenue and Larrabee Street. Eventually, most of the 3,600 high-rise apartments at Cabrini-Green were demolished. Only 586 original two-story row house units remain along Chicago Avenue. The project once housed more than 15,000 public housing residents.

Over the past 18 years, when later mixed-income phases were built, the area’s housing went from ghetto to Gold Coast-quality, and the neighborhood south of North Avenue now is a commercial and retail boomtown.

Back then, a lottery of CHA residents and former CHA residents determined which public housing families would be able to apply for replacement housing at North Town Village. The city also made a commitment to finding jobs for residents and providing quality education for the area’s children.

After North Town Village proved the mixed-income housing concept worked, several other Chicago public housing projects containing 18,000 units were demolished between 1999 and 2008 under the CHA’s 10-year Plan for Transition.

Demolished projects included the 1,662-unit Ida B. Wells, Madden Park and Clarence Darrow Homes developments on 39th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue on the Mid-South Side.

Others followed, including the 4,321-unit Robert Taylor Homes, a collection of 28 high-rises housing 27,000 people that ran south along State Street from Pershing Road (39st St.) to 54th Street.

The 92-acre Robert Taylor Homes—once called the largest public housing project in America—was razed by early 2007. In its place rose Legends South, a collection 2,300 low-rise homes and seven community facilities, built along State Street and on scattered sites in the adjoining neighborhood.

Ironically, Rich Daley was instrumental in tearing down what his iconic father, Richard J. Daley, had created in the 1950s—high-rise low-income ghettos with designs based on World-War II replacement housing in war-torn Germany under the Marshall Plan.

Under Rich Daley, things got better for the poor, law-abiding, public housing residents in Chicago, and this is his legacy, despite complaints about budget and pension shortfalls under Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s watch, housing analysts say.

The new mixed-income development road map in Chicago called for creating homes for peaceful poor and elderly people, and issuing Section-8 rent vouchers for the trouble-makers—drug dealers, gang members, hookers, and residents with habitual criminal records.

The exodus of thousands of African-Americans from the city and relocation of many trouble makers to Section-8 apartments in Englewood, West Englewood, the West Side of the city and the near south suburbs is part of the result. This relocation action likely sparked the endless drug-turf battles and killings in these neighborhoods which continue today.

While some neighborhoods have experienced urban rebirth because of mixed-income housing, the Plan for Transition is not yet fulfilled, housing advocates say.

Along with North Town Village, one of the great success stories is the replacement of public-housing with mixed-income homes at Oakwood Shores.

Starting in 2006, the 94-acre Oakwood Shores community rose between 37th and 39th streets, Cottage Grove Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd. The master plan for Oakwood Shores called for five phases of construction and 3,000 market-rate and affordable housing units.

The housing mix featured for-sale homes, row homes, townhomes and condominiums interspersed with about 2,000 rental apartments, according to co-developers Community Builders and Granite Development Corp.

“We are attempting to move forward at Oakwood Shores, even though the Great Recession slowed us down,” said Joe E. Williams of Granite Development.

Although Oakwood Shores is a private development, it includes a mix of both affordable and market-rate apartments, Williams noted. More than 800 rental and senior apartments have been completed and are fully rented and 74 homes, townhomes, row homes and condos have been sold, he said.

“Today, we are seeing a commercial renaissance beginning on Oakwood Boulevard with the completion of the new Mariano’s food store, and plans are underway for a new bank and other enterprises,” Williams said.

David Doig, president of Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, recently told Crain’s Chicago Business: “The mixed-income Oakwood Shores housing complex and smart public investment have created greater density and a desirable mix of incomes and attracted schools, parks and businesses that serve the community and are important centers of employment.”

Parks border Oakwood Shores on two sides. The revamped Mandrake Park serves as the gateway to the North Kenwood/Bronzeville neighborhood, with greystone mansions, landscaped parks, a fountain and well-maintained boulevards.

“Oakwood Shores is close to the South Loop, and just two blocks from Lake Michigan,” Williams said. “Improvements to nearby Lake Shore Drive, a new beach at 39th Street, the 31st Street Harbor with slips for 1,000 boats on Lake Michigan, and new parkland south of McCormick Place make Oakwood Shores Chicago’s next destination neighborhood.”

For more housing news, visit Don DeBat is co-author of “Escaping Condo Jail,” the ultimate survival guide for condominium living. Visit

“The book is Escaping Condo Jail by Sara Benson and Don DeBat. I would say that anybody thinking about buying a condo, or even anybody serving on a condo board, or anybody who has any connection to a condo, this is must reading—all 600 and something pages. Thanks a lot for a great book!”


Steve Sanders, “Your Money Matters” WGN TV, December 22, 2014

By Don DeBat

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