Dirksen School becomes park of debate on affordable housing
by BRIAN NADIG
Dirksen School, 8601 W. Foster Ave., is not only one of the city’s most overcrowded schools, but in recent months the school indirectly has become part of the affordable housing debate in the city.
Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st) said that recent news of a planned $30 million annex for Dirksen resulted in one of the best days since he became alderman in 2015. "It’s what we’ve been fighting for since day one," he said.
Dirksen has a capacity of 780, which includes the main building and modular units, but its enrollment is about 930, according to Chicago Public Schools’ space utilization reports. "It’s crammed," Napolitano said.
The school’s overcrowded conditions have been cited by Napolitano as one of the main reasons that he opposed a proposal to build a 299-unit apartment complex near Higgins and Cumberland avenues. The project’s developer, GlenStar Properties, has filed a lawsuit seeking permission to build the complex.
Initial plans called for GlenStar to buy out 22 of the required 30 affordable housing units by paying $2.75 million into the city’s housing fund and to have the option to either include the other eight affordable units in the complex or build them at an off-site location within 2 miles of the site.
GlenStar later agreed to build all 30 affordable units on-site, prompting several housing groups to throw in their support behind the project.
Napolitano said that the switch to on-site affordable units was not the first choice of the developer and that it was done to enlist the support of housing advocates. He added that the project was intended to offer "above-market rate" units to professionals seeking convenient access to the CTA Blue Line and "to make a fortunate on it."
Napolitano said that the planned annex does not change his stance on GlenStar’s proposal. He said it is unknown if the annex will allow for growth in the school’s enrollment or just fill its existing needs.
"We don’t even have shovels in the ground, and we don’t know what we are talking about (in terms of the design)," Napolitano said.