A site that was once a symbol of discrimination has become Chicago’s first affordable housing development built with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender seniors in mind.

The new Town Hall Apartments provides 79 affordable units in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, the heart of the city’s LGBT community.

“It’s our mission to serve vulnerable, underserved populations,” says Michael Goldberg, executive director of Heartland Housing, the nonprofit developer behind the project.

His organization teamed with the Center on Halsted, one of the Midwest’s largest and most comprehensive community centers for the LGBT community, to build the development after nearly 10 years of research and work.

Heartland Housing and Center on Halsted celebrated the opening of Town Hall Apartments on Oct. 10. Photo: Gensler
Heartland Housing and Center on Halsted celebrated the opening of Town Hall Apartments on Oct. 10. Photo: Gensler

Town Hall Apartments makes Chicago the latest city to open an affordable housing development for LGBT seniors. Similar developments have recently opened in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia.

“People are recognizing a need for this housing,” Goldberg says.

In Chicago, there are approximately 50,000 LGBT seniors, with about one in five of these seniors living in poverty, according to officials. Heartland Housing received more than 400 applications from people who wanted to live at Town Hall.

Despite growing acceptance, members of the LGBT community still face higher rates of housing discrimination than their straight peers. Heterosexual couples were favored over gay and lesbian couples 16 percent of the time, according to a 2013 Department of Housing and Urban Development study.

Adverse treatment was found primarily in the form of same-sex couples receiving fewer responses to e-mail inquiries for housing than heterosexual couples.

In addition to discrimination, elderly gays and lesbians often face isolation as they grow older, says Goldberg.

Town Hall Apartments is open to all seniors, but it’s known as being LGBT friendly.

The nearby Center on Halsted will offer services to seniors living in the building as well as expand and relocate its existing seniors program to the first floor of the new development.

Blending the old and new

Heartland Housing had been looking at the needs of this seniors population for about the last 10 years and had reviewed several potential development sites.

In 2012, the city selected Heartland and Center on Halsted to redevelop the former Town Hall police station. Several decades ago, the station was a symbol of intolerance and evoked fear in the gay community, but it’s now become a source of pride.

Designed by the Gensler architecture and planning firm, Town Hall Apartments is a unique blend of old and new. The team combined the station’s historic façade and color palette with a new modern building.

There are 30 studios and 49 one-bedroom apartments. The Chicago Housing Authority has covered all the units with project-based vouchers, so residents pay no more than 30 percent of their incomes toward rent.

The $23.7 million development was financed largely with low-income housing tax credit equity from investor Citi Community Capital and syndicator National Equity Fund. Funding also came from the city of Chicago HOME funds, the Illinois Affordable Housing Tax Credit, and an energy-efficiency grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

Connect with Donna Kimura, deputy editor of Affordable Housing Finance, on Twitter @DKimura_AHF.