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Uptown in the News  

July 28, 2004
Uptown Residents Protest Wilson Yard low-income homes
By Andrea James
Medill News Service

While the rest of the city tears down high-rise public housing projects in favor of mixed-income neighobrhoods, Wilson Yard in Uptown will see a new mid-rise low-income housing development.

More than a thousand local opponents of the project are angry. But the developer and Ald. Helen Shiller (46th) argue that the development is sorely needed to provide working families with a place to live.

"The housing proposed . . . will respond directly to a variety of households who are having difficulty affording to stay in the community and in doing so help sustain the diversity of our community," she said in an e-mail.

Through a petition and a rally planned for Saturday, July 24, some Uptown residents hope to change plans for the area east of the L tracks, between West Wilson and West Montrose Avenues.

The city will buy the land from the Chicago Transit Authority, which formerly used it as a repair and maintenance facility, for $6.6.million. It will then transfer it to Chicago-based Holsten Development.

The final draft for Wilson Yard will be presented at a community meeting on Sept.8 at Truman College, and these residents plan to demand a change in the proposal. Two mid-rise, 70-unit, low-income buildings are planned for the site, as well as a Target retail store and movie theater. An Aldi's Food Store already on the site will be incorporated into the overall design plans.

One building will house senior citizens, while the other will offer affordable housing rentals for families. The Chicago Housing Authority has abandoned the notion of all-low-income buildings in hopes of rejuvenating a public housing program infamous for perpetuating racial segregation, harboring criminals and isolating the poor.

But the Wilson Yard project isn't run by CHA, and some residents say that they oppose additional low-income housing in an area that is already known for its poverty.

"When I walk outside my condo, all I see is drug dealing, prostitution - there is shooting," area resident Emilee Bond said. "Living in the area, it is so blatantly obvious, there are so many people living below the poverty line in Uptown."

Some residents fear that the proposed low-income builidng will turn into another Cabrini-Green.

But developer Peter Holsten, president of Holsten Development, said: "That is sensationalism. That's absolutely not true." "Cabrini Green residents are unemployed or underemployed folks with zero or little income. That is not the case with either of these buildings in the first phase."

The residents of Wilson Yard's low-income building will have to pay at least $450 per month or more, Holsten said. After 15 years, the building will change from a rental property to co-operative home ownership.

And, with strong property management, the buildings won't become crime infested, said Holsten, whose company will be doing the managing.

"Well-managed, lower-income families can succeed in a high rise building if they have the appropriate resident services and strong property management," Holsten said.

Shiller said it's impossible to please everyone, but she hopes that everyone will be satisfied with parts of the plan. Many households cannot afford to stay in the community as rental prices rise, and the Wilson Yard properties will serve those residents, she said.

"Most perople have expressed appreciation of the process and support of multiple elements of the plan," said Shiller. "We created a virtual basket. All ideas, needs and proposals went into the basket, and most will be included in the final package."

Phases two and three of the project will include at least 24 units of market-rate housing and 50 units of artist housing. However, the time line for those phases hasn't been determined, and the first phase isn't expected to be complete until 2006.

About $30 million of "tax increment financing" money will be used over 23 years to fund the development, as well as funding from other sources such as Housing and Urban Development and the City of Chicago.

"Residents are outraged" over the use of property tax dollars to fund the buildings, Zipperer said. And, many don't want to wait for phases two and three for area revitalization.

Residents that oppose the proposal say that Wilson Yard is not an ideal place for housing, but if housing must be placed in the area, it would best serve a community of low-income artists.

"This isn't about being against something," area resident Laura Heller said. "This is about having some thoughtful community planning and quality of life."

Shiller said she is ready for Sept.8, adding that she has the support of the majority of the community behind her.

"There have been two referenda on the ballot regarding affordable housing where between 65 and 75 percent of the people in the precincts surrounding Wilson Yard voted in support of affordable housing," Shiller said.

"If you take the whole corner, we have a true mix of incomes and uses, residential and commercial. The Wilson Yard development will give some people an alternative to poverty."

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