Arena hopes library will change view on housing


Alderman John Arena (45th) said that he hopes the new Independence Library project that includes Chicago Housing Authority apartments for seniors would help to "redefine" how low-income and affordable housing is viewed.

Arena testified at the July 20 meeting of the Chicago Plan Commission that combining a public space such as a library with low-income and affordable housing should create a better understanding of the need for that type of housing and the important role that tenants can play in the community. The commission unanimously approved the project.

Earlier this year Arena supported the construction of a four-story, 100-unit apartment building with 30 CHA units and about 50 affordable-housing units at 5150 N. Northwest Hwy., which caused controversy in the community. Unlike the library project, the Northwest Highway building would not be restricted to seniors.

Prior to a public announcement of the Northwest Highway project, Arena agreed to support the site’s rezoning to settle a lawsuit, which the owner filed after Arena had the property downzoned to stop a plan to build only a storage warehouse there. Arena also has signed a pledge to bring more CHA units to his ward in an effort to help end segregation in area neighborhoods.

Arena has argued that too many people in the area are spending a disproportionate amount of their income on housing costs and that the below-market rents offered in affordable housing, which is targeted for those earning 60 percent of an area’s median income, helps to reverse that trend. Low-income units are targeted for those earning 30 to 50 percent of an area’s median income.

At the commission’s hearing on the library proposal, commission member Alderman Walter Burnett (27th) noted that there were no protesters unlike at the hearing for the Northwest Highway plan and said that there was a great need for senior housing. "Ten thousand baby boomers are coming of senior age everyday," he said.
The six-story building would include the library and community space on the first two floors, with the apartments on the upper floors. There also would be a 29-space parking garage on the first floor.

The Independence Library has been closed since a fire in 2015 damaged its storefront space at 3548 W. Irving Park Road. The new library would be constructed on a 23,684-square-foot parcel at 4022 N. Elston Ave., where a former funeral home would be demolished.

The building would include "large transparent storefront windows" and a facade consisting of "corrugated aluminum siding on all four sides with a section in precast concrete along the front elevation" of the library, according to a staff report from the city Department of Planning and Development.

The library is being designed by architect John Ronan, who was a finalist for the President Obama Library project. The city held a design contest for three mixed-use library projects, including a new Northtown Library at 2402 W. Pratt Ave.

"This is a win-win for all," Alderman Margaret Laurino (39th) said. "I’m jealous this in the 45th Ward, directly across from the 39th Ward."

Arena thanked the Old Irving Park Association, the West Walker Civic Association and the Greater Independence Park Neighborhood Association for what he said was an "adult, civil" discussion that helped to formulate the $22.69 million project.

Project officials said that new library is expected to open by the end of 2018.