By Madeline Makoul
The Chicago Plan Commission recently approved the next phase of the ongoing Roosevelt Square development, a mixed-income project underway since 2003, with new affordable housing, including units for former Chicago Housing Authority tenants, planned.
Related Midwest, the development company handling the ongoing project, presented its latest proposal to the commission. Michael Kaplan, senior associate in development at Related Midwest, said the latest phase, referred to as phase three, will include three new midrise buildings and work on the National Public Housing Museum.
Workers are building Roosevelt Square on the Chicago Housing Authority’s (CHA) former ABLA—Addams, Brooks, Loomis, Abbott—homes site and will construct 222 units with both market-rate and affordable housing options, Kaplan explained.
According to Kaplan, a midrise building at Taylor and Racine will hold 67 units, 50 of which will be market rate while 17 are affordable. The other buildings will provide a “more traditional” mixed-income ratio with around one-third market rate and two-thirds affordable housing. Plans include a grocery store and other retail space.
The overall project will consist of 125 affordable and 97 market rate units.
“There are two tiers of affordable, Kaplan explained. “There’s replacement public housing, so that is directly intended to serve families that lived in the old buildings that were here or families on CHA’s waitlist, and then there’s workforce level housing. The CHA has rents that are tailored to the resident’s income and more like subsidized housing. The intent is to provide a broader spectrum of who can live in these buildings.”
With the long awaited development moving into phase three, the plan commission focused keenly on affordable housing and how to fund it properly.
“We wanted to make sure that the projects are more affordable and lower AMI [average median income], and we saw that it’s important that money is invested, like with TIFs, to ensure that we have affordable public housing,” Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25th Ward Alderman and part of the Chicago Plan Commission Committee, explained. “It’s not only important to invest in housing, but have an adequate use of TIF funding that unfortunately, in the past, has gone to luxury housing.”
A decade-old promise
The broader Roosevelt Square development project encompasses many phases, but only now, with the latest phase, will it finally replace previously torn down housing.
Phase three officially kicked off in 2017 with the library building at Taylor and Ada Streets, which workers completed in 2019, Kaplan said. While Related Midwest is nearly two decades into the development process, Kaplan said these projects have been “no easy feat,” considering the financial crisis in 2008 and infrastructure changes to the project.
“The plan for transformation was a very ambitious project by the CHA, and it goes beyond the sheer number of units, reconfiguring and reintroducing street grids, bring-ing in infrastructure, in addition to the unit count,” Kaplan said. “There was a whole lot of streets, sewers, electrical, all kinds of infrastructure, not to mention you can’t just build dense housing. You need other amenities to support it.”
While some design elements have changed over the years, Kaplan said the latest phase will stick largely to the plan. This adherence stems in part from components required by court order and the CHA.
“There was a requirement to rebuild a very strict number of public housing units in this neighborhood, so some of the big picture parameters have been the same,” Kaplan said.
This promise to rebuild public housing is one that Sigcho-Lopez said became a primary subject of conversation. The alderman asserted the importance not only to rebuild this public housing as promised but additionally to include affordable housing.
“Especially in this community and with the pandemic at hand, housing has been a big issue across the city, particularly in the ABLA homes community,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “For us, the conversation has been around affordability and having a local connection.”
Kaplan said the library already offers a quality addition to the neighborhood, not only providing a state-of-the-art collection but a place for people to gather within the community. The development also has signed a lease with a local business to open a grocery store, he noted.
“Access to food is kind of an anchor, he noted. “It will bring something that people in the community need, but it also drives traffic to that area of Taylor Street. You might be going to buy groceries, and you walk by the coffee shop and grab your coffee, or another store and buy flowers, so it gets commerce going again.”
Sigcho-Lopez agreed such additions will have a positive impact but said that, moving forward, he urges an even closer look at the details.
“We want to make sure residents are heard and their concerns and needs are met through this planning process,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “The extent that our spaces are culturally sensitive and connect to the community is what will make this a successful project. The phase is still under review, but I hope the commitments are fulfilled.”
Looking to the future
After years of anticipation, both community members and Related Midwest are looking to push phase three forward.
“We are really excited about this,” Kaplan said. “It’s going to be impactful. It’s going to be units, people spending money on Taylor Street, it’s going to be jobs during construction, it’s going to be jobs after construction, and ultimately it’s going to be a shot in the arm to the neighborhood.”
As Related Midwest continues through the approvals process, the firm is adjusting plans to the changing community. According to Kaplan, a 2016 planning study found a desire to include more market-rate units. To accomplish this, Kaplan said Related Midwest upgraded phase three plans to increase the density to include more market-rate units while maintaining the affordable housing units.
Sigcho-Lopez said affordable and public housing should stay the top priority. He noted an estimated shortage of 120,000 units of public and affordable housing in Chicago, making this project even more important.
Sigcho-Lopez also expressed concern about lifting the moratorium on evictions, unemployment numbers, and “skyrocketing” costs of living that continue to displace residents from the community. He therefore hopes the latest phase, as well as Federal funds and an increased focus on housing options by City agencies, will help promote change.
“We are two decades into this, and we have been working diligently to make this not only possible but beneficial to the community,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “It certainly has taken a long time, and we have advocated for this project to have the changes residents want, to make sure it’s truly affordable and with commercial spaces that are actually available to residents. The prioritization of housing, in general, has been a long time coming, but I’m hoping this is the beginning of more of an investment in affordable and public housing.”
Related Midwest needs more approvals before phase three gets fully underway. Kaplan explained CHA is next to approve, and then the project will go to the City Council, which will discuss financing. Related Midwest hopes to wrap up phase three construction in 2023.