Alderman Villegas pulls plug on affordable housing plan for Portage Park


A Jan. 26 community meeting on a 55-unit affordable housing proposal at 3655 N. Central Ave. ended with Alderman Gilbert Villegas (36th) pulling the plug on the project.

“I’ve heard nothing but you don’t want this,” Villegas said told the crowd of about 500 people in the Reinberg School auditorium, 3425 N. Major Ave. “I don’t think we’re going to move forward with this.”

A second community meeting had been scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 4, to accommodate the dozens of residents who were denied access to the auditorium due to overcrowding concerns. “There is not going to be a need for a second meeting,” Villegas said.

Villegas said that he will hold community meetings as other proposals come forward for the parcel, which was once occupied by a Dominick’s grocery store. A CVS Pharmacy was constructed on the southern half of the site several years ago, but the northern half, where the proposed four-story apartment building would have been constructed, has been unoccupied for about 10 years.

Villegas, who is in his first term as alderman, said that his goal is to have “open and transparent” discussion about any zoning proposal in the ward. “I want to make sure the community is engaged,” he said. “At some point, something has to be built there.”

Villegas said that he would like to see a grocery store on the site but that Dominick’s had a restrictive covenant prohibiting a new food store attached to the property’s deed and that CVS does not want the restriction lifted.

Project manager Lindsey Haines of Full Circle Communities said that 20 percent of the apartments would be reserved for veterans and that the typical tenant for the other units would have a household income of about $45,000. Monthly rents would from $812 to $1,250, with veterans paying about half of that, and 38 on-site parking spaces would be provided.

Haines said that the project would be reflective of the working-class character of the neighborhood, where 46.73 percent of households within a mile of the site earn less than $49,999 a year. She said that Full Circle, a nonprofit corporation, would be partnering with the Northwest Side Housing Center to help provide support to those tenants who would like to eventually purchase a home.

Many audience members expressed concern that the project would attract crime to the area and asked about the criminal background checks which prospective tenants would go through. “They’ll come in and treat this place like crap,” one woman said.

Another woman said that she would not support the project until police demonstrate that they can address existing gang issues, including a drug house near Eddy Street and Linder Avenue. She recommended that tenants in the proposed building be limited to seniors and veterans.

Another resident reported that there had been 340 calls for police service for a 189-apartment complex which Full Circle manages in Carol Stream and that she fears the Portage Park proposal would detract residents’ efforts to maintain and improve the area. “I work very hard in the community and don’t want to see it go to waste,” she said.

Full Circle representatives said that they have been working with village officials to remove some problem tenants at the company’s Villagebrook Apartments and that prospective tenants for any company project to help prevent those with drug offense and felony convictions from moving in.

Company representatives also said that they are very selective in choosing tenants, as only 15 out of the first 400 applications for its new complex at 3064 N. Milwaukee Ave. were approved. The units in the Milwaukee building are geared toward those with motor and sensory disabilities.

Crime-related concerns also were raised at the meeting about children who would live in the proposed building and about visitors. While criminal background checks are not available on minors, visitors who cause a problem can be banned from future visits, project officials said.

During the meeting Alderman Nicholas Sposato, whose 38th Ward borders the 36th Ward, said that some of the crime concerns expressed by residents were overstated. “I’m sick and tired of people saying it’s a crime-ridden neighborhood,” Sposato said. “You do not live in an unsafe community.”

The proposed project would only “put a dent” in the affordable housing need in the Portage Park area, Haines said. Ideally tenants should not be paying more than 30 percent of their income toward housing in order to have sufficient funds for necessities such as child care, she said.

Housing center executive director James Rudyk asked audience members to think about “the human element” of project due to the housing resources it would bring to families looking for assistance. “We should all open our hearts and our minds,” he said.

One man responded that it does not make sense to put a 55-unit building “in the smack of the bungalow belt,” while a woman said that most of the home owners in the audience are paying more than 30 percent of their salary toward their mortgage and that no assistance is being offered to them.

Rudyk encouraged those who are struggling to pay their mortgage to contact the housing center, 5233 W. Diversey Ave. The center offers a variety of support services, including counseling on foreclosure prevention.