Project financing, housing details mulled during call
by BRIAN NADIG
Questions about a proposed mixed-housing project at 5150 N. Northwest Hwy. at an Aug. 14 teleconference town hall centered around its impact on overcrowded schools, financing for the project and plans to give veterans a preference to live there.
Alderman John Arena (45th) recently said that the seven-story project is moving forward and that the teleconference was intended to give residents a chance to ask questions on issues which have not been previously addressed.
The Chicago Plan Commission could hold a public hearing on the proposal as early as its meeting on Sept. 13.
The Full Circle development would be one of several new apartment buildings that are expected to be built in the attendance area of Beaubien School, 5025 N. Laramie Ave., which is operating at 102 percent of its capacity.
Project developer Joshua Wilmoth of Full Circle Communities said that "on average" a 75-unit building would generate less than five children per grade.
Arena said during the teleconference that while plans to open a pre-kindergarten center at the former Saint Cornelius School, 5252 N. Long Ave., have been delayed, school system officials have assured him that plans are "still moving forward," possibly in a year, and that it would help free up classrooms at area elementary schools. The school system has not signed a lease for the former parochial school.
Fifteen of the planned 75 apartments would be leased at market rate, while the remaining 60 units would be leased at below-market rate to families with household incomes at or below 60 percent of the area’s median income.
In addition, the Chicago Housing Authority would subsidize some of the units, and 15 of the 75 units would be reserved exclusively for veterans, who would be given a preference for the remaining units, followed by a preference for those with disabilities, according to Full Circle Communities.
The upper floors of the building would be set back from the sidewalk to reduce its "massing" effect, and the sidewalk on the Northwest Highway portion of the site would be widened as part of the project’s pedestrian-friendly goals, Wilmoth said. He added that the site’s proximity to a transit center would open up job opportunities to the building’s tenants, as they could easily travel to the Loop or O’Hare International Airport.
Financing has not been secured for the project, but it is not unusual for the City Council to approve a zoning change prior to the developer being able to buy the land or build the development.
Wilmoth said that the process for obtaining low-housing tax credits for the project is highly competitive and approval is "not guaranteed" for 2019 but that "the goal is to have people moving into the building by the end of 2020." The state housing board rejected tax credits for the project in 2017 and 2018.
Earlier this year the proposal was reduced from 100 apartments to 75 to help make the project more feasible. "Shrinking the building … made it more possible to finance down the road," Arena said.
One caller asked if preferences for tenants in the building would be given to existing "rent-burdened" families in Jefferson Park in addition to veterans and the disabled.
Wilmoth said that it is against the law to give a preference based on where one lives but that marketing efforts would be directed to those living in Jefferson Park to facilitate their chances of becoming a tenant in the Full Circle building.
It was also reported that the first floor of the building would be managed by Friendship Community Place, which is affiliated with Friendship Presbyterian Church, 6088 N. Northwest Hwy. Plans call for the 5,500-square-foot space to include administrative offices for a variety of nonprofit agencies and start-up businesses.
Arena said that while an organization that serves the homeless has been looking at having an office there, reports of a homeless shelter on the ground floor are false. He said that the site is not zoned for a shelter and that "it’s not what we’ve looking for here," adding that there would not be sufficient space for a shelter.
The seven-story, mixed-income housing proposal has been in the works for 2 1/2 years, as project developer Full Circle met with Arena in early 2016 to discuss a development for up to 150 apartments in the ward.
Last year hundreds were turned away at a community meeting on the proposal, which called for 100 units at the time, due to capacity issues or because they did not live in the 45th Ward, as identification was checked at the door.
It was never announced at the meeting that Arena had signed a legal document to support the site’s rezoning to allow a housing development and a self-storage facility on the property in about a week before the meeting. The document was part of a settlement agreement to a lawsuit between the city and the site’s owner, LSC Development, after Arena had the property downzoned to halt original plans to have only a storage warehouse on the parcel.
The housing plan has sparked a storm of controversy on social media, and some city workers are facing disciplinary action for their online comments against the housing proposal. Arena’s office kept a spreadsheet of about 80 current and former government workers who allegedly made racially charged comments regarding the proposal, including comparisons to Cabrini Green.
In recent weeks the firefighters reportedly have been asked questions about their views on race during disciplinary hearings, and an investigation is pending by the Chicago Office of Police Accountability against 31 police officers for their comments.