CHICAGO - By January, workers will finish the homes and apartments in the first phase of a plan to redesign more than 30 blocks of public housing and re-knit the urban fabric between four neighborhoods on Chicago’s Near West Side.
Roosevelt Square will eventually total more than 2,400 new units
of housing, replacing Grace Abbott Homes, made up of a ring of
seven khaki-colored towers and a swarm of low-rise apartments
arranged around a desolate oval of grass; the Jane Addams Homes,
one of the oldest public housing projects in Chicago, built in
1938; and the Brooks Extension.
Along with Loomis Courts and the Robert Brooks Homes, which are
being renovated but not demolished, these five projects formed a
cluster of public housing projects known collectively by the
fantastically ugly acronym “ABLA,” shorthand for Abbott
Brooks Loomis Addams, and totaling nearly 4,000 apartments.
ABLA is just one of 20 places now being torn down and rebuilt
under the Chicago Housing Authority’s (CHA’s) Plan for
Transformation, which aims to redevelop or rehabilitate 25,000
units of public housing by the end of 2009, though many projects
will almost certainly take longer.
Roosevelt Square will replace Addams and Abbott with a
traditional grid of streets lined with Chicago-style townhouses and
apartment buildings. None of the new structures will rise higher
than four stories, and many will include ground-floor retail,
especially on the busier streets.
Like many successful public housing redevelopments from Boston
to Atlanta, these new buildings mix public housing with low-income
rental housing and luxury housing, though mixed-income projects
like Roosevelt Square are still proving themselves to
“We’re really changing the face of public housing in
Chicago,” said Brad White, senior vice president of LR
Development Co., the lead developer of Roosevelt Square.
ABLA was set on a busy intersection and surrounded by the
bustling neighborhoods of Little Italy to the north, Pilsen to the
south, a campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago to the
east, and a growing district of hospitals and medical colleges to
the west. So it might seem strange that so few shops and stores
lined the streets of the projects.
“It’s very important to the neighborhood and to the
city that we return commercial and retail to the street,”
White said. New businesses like a Citibank branch, a doctor’s
office, a pizzeria, and a specialty gift company have already
claimed some of the retail spaces in Roosevelt Square.
They join a Jewel supermarket and Osco Drug Store that opened
just across South Ashland Avenue from the property in January 2002,
almost in the shadow of the seven 15-story towers of the Abbott
Homes, then still standing.
Fending off naysayers
The development, like the projects it’s replacing, has
engendered its fair share of controversy and skepticism.
Given that it’s taken a decade from the time of the
initial funding commitment for the first units to be completed,
many former residents have given up on returning to the area.
Others are fighting to ensure the redeveloped project makes room
In 1999 and again last May, a small group of ABLA residents sued
the CHA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to
block plans they claimed would segregate public housing residents,
putting them into one area of the redevelopment.
The developers say that’s not the case, and that
they’ve carefully planned their work to heal the divisions in
the neighborhood, not build new ones. The first phase will evenly
mix luxury townhomes with public housing apartments over five city
blocks, beginning north of Taylor Street, the main drag of Little
Italy, and stretching south of Roosevelt Road. For years, Roosevelt
Road has been the dividing line between Little Italy and the ABLA
projects, White said.
To quell dissent, the CHA has promised that everyone who was
legally living in Chicago public housing on Oct. 1, 1999, will
eventually have the right to return to a public housing apartment,
though perhaps not in the same place. In the interim, many are
living in private housing subsidized by Sec. 8 vouchers.
At ABLA, the rehabilitation will ultimately reduce the number of
public housing units from nearly 4,000 units to less than 1,300,
with another nearly 400 new units at another location.
White believes that the public housing left at Roosevelt Square
should be safer and easier to maintain than what came before. The
mix of incomes should support new retail to serve the community.
The bustle of people drawn to this retail should bring new energy
to the sidewalks. Also, more than half of the new housing will be
sold to homeowners, creating a large base of people very interested
in maintaining their property values.
Putting it all together
The new units in the first phase include 125 apartments reserved
for public housing residents and subsidized with project-based Sec.
8 rental subsidy; they are managed by LR’s property
management company instead of the CHA. Another 56 rental apartments
are reserved for families earning up to 60 percent of the area
median income (AMI), with rents ranging from $725 for a one-bedroom
apartment to $985 for a three-bedroom.
More than half of the units in the first phase are condominiums
and for-sale townhomes. All 233 have sold, including 74 units
reserved for home buyers earning up to 100 percent of AMI.
Also, more than 800 luxury condominiums are now selling just
east of the site, where the historic South Water Market is being
turned into University Commons by a private developer.
The financing for the $43.2 million first phase began with $15.4
million in HOPE VI funds, part of two grants totaling $59.4 million
to redevelop the ABLA projects, the first in 1996 and another in
The first phase of Roosevelt Square also received $23.9 million
in equity from the sale of 9 percent low-income housing tax credits
(LIHTC) syndicated by CharterMac Capital, and a $500,000 Affordable
Housing Program loan from the Federal Home Loan Bank of San
Francisco, through member Bank of America (BofA). Additional
sources of financing included a construction loan and a $2 million
first mortgage from BofA, as well as a contribution from a retail
Crafting a deal with so many pieces is more than a little
complicated: “It’s like herding cats—you can only
imagine how much paper there was at closing,” White said.
In all, LR is planning five more phases of development at
Roosevelt Square. Each phase will take an average of two years to
complete, White said, including the time it takes to apply for all
the LIHTC subsidy that the city can afford to hand out every year,
in addition to endless design meetings and, as this is Chicago,
lawsuits. With luck, the last phase should be complete in 2016.