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Uptown in the News  

September 15, 2004
Affordable Housing the flash point for proposed Wilson Yard plan
By Adam Pincus, correspondent

A raucous and partisan crowd of over 700 people, far exceeding the capacity of the first-floor cafeteria at Truman College Wednesday evening, Sept. 8, attended and occasionally interrupted the public presentation of the plan for a large retail and residential development at Wilson Yard.

Overflow attendees listened from the hallway and an adjacent lounge during the three-hour meeting.

The flash point of the plan, which concerns a 5-acre triangular parcel bounded by Montrose, Sunnyside, Broadway and the CTA tracks, is the proposed 70 units of affordable family apartments in a 10-story building on the southeast corner of Broadway and Montrose.

Dozens of opponents of the low-income housing wore safety-orange T shirts, while advocates of the affordable housing sported bright green stickers.

This color-coded display was the prelude to a formal hearing of the Wilson yard plan before the Community Development Commission Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 14 in City Council chambers. Critics of the affordable housing, who have gathered an estimated 2,500 signatures of residents against this portion of the plan, also planned to wear orange and speak out at the CDC meeting.

"Affordable" is a technical term that essentially means a unit is affordable to a "low-income" resident making between $20j,000 and $40,000 in Chicago, who would pay between $450 and $700 for a one-, tow- or three-bedroom apartment.

Randy Lehner, a resident of the 4400 block of North Malden and a spokesman for the Uptown Neighborhood Council, said a high density of poverty already surrounding the Wilson yard is detrimental to the neighborhood. When considering low-income housing, he said, "The rest of the city is building low density and (spreading it) out, but here we are bucking that trend."

Another view was offered by Mark Fick, of the 4600 block of North Ashland, and president of the Organization of the NorthEast, a coalition of North Side community groups. He said that almost 700 units of rental housing in the four census tracts neighboring Wilson Yard had been lost or converted over the last ten year.

"We are pleased that it will provide housing for those who have been displaced by other development in Uptown, "Fick said.

Wilson Yard developer Peter Holsten, president of Holsten Real Estate Development Corporation, said the units are for people making no more than $30,000 to $40,000, and that "this building is for people working."

In fact, people with Section 8 vouchers and without employment could, following a screening test, occupy units in the building, according to Molly Sullivan, director of communications for Chicago's Department of Housing. She mentioned, however, that this is true for virtually any building in Chicago, as it is illegal to discriminate based on Section 8 vouchers.

According to Don Hohenadel, assistant commissioner for the Department of Planning and Development, the entire $113 million project has been in the works for six years and is "by far the most extensive community process our department has been involved in."

The plan includes the 10-story building with the affordable family units; an additional 10-story building with 71 affordable senior units; a two-story, 180,000 square-foot Target; a 12 to 16 screen multiplex theater on top of the Target; a 15,000 square-foot Aldi; 19,000 square feet of retail space and 10,000 square feet of office space for non-profit organizations.

The plan calls for 965 parking spaces, grass on the roof of the apartment buildings, and the extension of Sunnyside across Broadway.

The projects' buildings will be separately owned, according to Holsten, to insure a corporate interest in the success of the project. His company will own and manage the family housing, while Providence Housing will manage the senior housing. Kerasotes Theaters of Chicago "will own their space so they are not going to walk (away) and Target is going to own tow floors."

The family building will be made up of six one-bedroom unite=s, 52 two-bedroom units and 12 three-bedroom units.

Holsten estimated that the project will take 18 to 20 months, and would be completed by the fall of 2007. When completed, the complex should create the equivalent of 200 full-time jobs, and he added, "We are very sensitive to jobs for locals" which will be committed in writing.

The traffic study for the project has not been completed, but Tim Lehder, from the Chicago Department of Transportation, said, "It is not our opinion that (the project) will result in gridlock, though there will be some congestion mid-afternoons and weekends."

Several questions were raised repeatedly in written questions from the audience. One was whether there would be drug screening for the residents.

"I am always opposed to drug screening," Ald. Helen Shiller (46th) said after the meeting. "(It is a ) violation of privacy rights to screen based on income or nature of housing."

Holsten offered as examples the Belle Shore and Bryn Mawr building on Bryn Mawr Avenue in Edgewater, which his company manages, to show how a combination of management and screening can lead to a successful building.

The majority of the ten community groups that sent representatives to speak during the meeting supported the plan. The dissenters were the Uptown Chicago Commission, the Uptown Neighborhood Council and the Buena Park Neighbors.

The meeting was interrupted a half dozen times by clapping or jeering, including one incident when Larry Pride, of the Community of Uptown Residents for Affordability and Justice (COURAJ), speaking in favor of the plan, had exceeded his time. A police officer took the microphone and reminded the speakers that their comments were to last three minutes. When Pride resumed speaking, audience members jeered and shouted "Three minutes!" until he finally left the podium.

The project is being financed through several complex arrangements, including low-income housing tax-credits and tax increment financing (TIF). Through the TIF, the city will issue a $26.4 million "developer note", which will be guaranteed by the city, and which Holsten will pay off through rebates in property taxes.

Shiller said all written questions would be answered and posted on her website: http://www.cityofchicago.org/Ward46/.

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