UPDATED STORY: Residents object to affordable, low-income housing project
by BRIAN NADIG
Plans for a five-story storage warehouse and a seven-story mixed-income housing project on a 1.54-acre site at Milwaukee Avenue and Northwest Highway were announced at a Feb. 9 community meeting.
The meeting drew a crowd of about 700 people to Branch Community Church, 6125 W. Foster Ave., but there was only space to allow about half of them into the church. Admission to the meeting was restricted to 45th Ward residents.
Area resident Steve Gulyas said that the opinions of residents on possible uses for the site of the former Archdiocese of Chicago food processing plant should have been sought by Alderman John Arena (45th) last spring when the City Council downzoned the property in an effort to attract a larger development than the initial plan to build only a storage warehouse. Arena has said that a storage facility by itself would do little for the area’s economic vitality.
Gulyas said that he has attended many meetings where a formal plan is presented and “we’re told this is it.” He said that the opinions of residents should be sought before “all the t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted.”
Arena said that he holds a community meeting on each zoning proposal in the ward and that he makes revisions based on comments made at the meetings. He also often seeks comments on proposals from his advisory committee, but those meetings are closed to the public.
Arena said that while the storage component of the project is likely to move forward this spring, he has not made up his mind about the housing plan. He said that he will take into consideration viewpoints on the project that were not presented at the meeting.
Most of the comments made at the contentious 2 1/2-hour meeting were in opposition to the project. “If you don’t stop shouting, I’m not going to answer any more questions,” Arena said.
Concerns were expressed that the housing would attract tenants with criminal and drug problems and that there was no guarantee that the building would cater to veterans.
Representatives of the developer for the project, Full Circle Communities, have said that the building would be marketed to veterans and that 20 of the units would be reserved exclusively for veterans.
Two of the social agencies that Full Circle works with to recruit veterans specialize in treating people with drug-abuse problems, according to some residents. Prospective tenants would be subject to criminal and financial background checks.
Monthly rents would range from $400 to $1,700. Sixty of the units would be reserved for those earning 60 percent of the median income in the area, or about $46,000 a year, and 20 CHA-subsidized units would be reserved for those earning about $23,000.
Arena said that the building’s tenants would benefit area businesses. “They’ll purchase vegetables at grocery stores just like you,” he said.
Ten of the apartments would be fully accessible for the disabled, and 20 additional units could be adapted to fit a tenant’s special needs. Adam Ballard of Access Living said that the project would help fill a void because it is “almost impossible” to find affordable housing for the disabled.
One-site social services also would be provided to tenants, such as assistance in enrolling children in school and applying for benefits from the Veterans Administration.
Some residents expressed concern that the development along with other planned developments for Jefferson Park would be too dense and that they would lead to more crime and would increase overcrowding at area schools. One resident objected to the height of a planned 15-story building at Ainslie Street and Lipps Avenue.
Several residents said that Arena has made derogatory comments on social media about opponents of Full Circle’s project. “You called me prejudiced on social media,” a resident said. “You don’t know me. This is all about high density in Jefferson Park.”
Others said that Arena’s online statements calling President Donald Trump “a pussy” and his supporters a “generally subhuman puddle of DNA” demonstrate that he does not respect people with views that differ from his.
About 3,700 people have signed an online petition against the mixed-income housing project, and about 200 people signed a similar petition which was distributed at the meeting.
“If it is such a good idea, why don’t you put it in Six Corners in your back yard instead of mine?” one resident asked Arena.
Arena responded that he approved a 98-unit affordable senior housing project in the Six Corners area. Several people shouted back that senior housing is not comparable to the project planned for Jefferson Park.
Some residents asked Arena to hold a second community meeting because there was not enough time for them to make their comments. Arena said he would consider their request.
At times during the meeting protest chants could be heard from people outside the church.