The Covent Hotel will be fully rehabbed by developer NHP Foundation. Credit: Provided/NHP Foundation

LINCOLN PARK — The redevelopment of the old Covent Hotel in Lincoln Park into a 30-unit affordable housing building has begun.

Crews broke ground Thursday on nonprofit NHP Foundation’s $21 million project to rehab the Covent Hotel, 2653 N. Clark St.

The project involves converting the hotel’s 64 rooms into 30 larger studio units with their own kitchens and bathrooms, according to city officials. The units will be permanent supportive housing restricted to tenants at or below 30 percent and 50 percent of the area median income, which is just less than $100,000 in Lincoln Park.

“The Covent Apartments repurposes an old rooming motel where people with little means and even fewer housing options lived week to week,” said Veronica Gonzalez, Midwest development director for the NHP Foundation. “The new development will bring much-needed social services and rental assistance to some of Chicago’s most vulnerable citizens.”

Officials celebrate the groundbreaking of the Covent Apartments on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022. Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago

Former Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), who stepped down in July, said the groundbreaking was the result of years of work.

Rose Gunden, the building’s previous owner, would affectionately refer to the people who lived there as “her men,” Smith said.

“She was very devoted to them, and even though Rose was in ill health and had difficulty walking, she really believed these men needed a place to stay, so she was just unmoved anytime a fancy developer would come by to buy her building,” Smith said.

Grunden died around the time Smith became aldermen, and developers immediately came asking about the building, Smith said. She turned them all away because she wanted to preserve the building and make it affordable.

Eventually, Mecky Adnani, senior vice president at NHP, came forward with the Coven Apartments plan, and Smith jumped at the partnership.

“And when we had our public meeting, I have to say with great pride, that our community showed up and said ‘this is a great idea’ to combine an appropriately sized market-rate building for our community with not just affordable housing, but supportive housing,” Smith said.

Former 43rd Ward Ald. Michele Smith speaks during the Covent Apartments groundbreaking ceremony. Credit: Jake Wittich/Block Club Chicago

The Covent Hotel dates to 1915, when it was built to accompany an adjacent theater, which was demolished in the ’60s. The surviving three-story building has long served as a single-room occupancy, but it fell into disrepair after its previous owner died, city officials said.

The hotel’s renovation will involve replacing doors, windows and elevator systems, as well as converting its eight ground-level commercial spaces into four larger retail spaces, Adnani said.

“This is what the community wanted,” Adnani previously said. “These kinds of rental units are needed in the Lincoln Park area, and we’re really glad we could preserve the building while creating these 30 great studio apartments.”

A historic photo of the Covent Hotel, which was built in 1915. Credit: Screenshot/City of Chicago
The Covent Hotel, which was built in 1915, will be renovated into 30 affordable studio apartments with their own kitchens and bathrooms, as seen in Lincoln Park on March 28, 2022. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Before construction began, the hotel had about 20 tenants, according to NHP. They will all be offered priority to return to the renovated studio units once the rehab is finished.

Under the Uniform Relocation Act, NHP will have a relocation plan and a relocation specialist on board to find units nearby the Covent for its current tenants to stay in while the rehab is happening, Adnani said.

The Chicago Housing Authority has also approved 30 project-based vouchers for the Covent’s incoming residents, including its current tenants, Adnani said. The vouchers allow residents to pay 30 percent of their income for rent.

“So we expect some residents to actually have a reduction from the rents they are currently paying,” Adnani said. “The project-based subsidy protects the residents as the rent is based on their income, not the market.

“We don’t displace anybody, so they come back to brand new, semi-furnished units in Lincoln Park that are going to be beautiful.”

A new construction building next to the old Covent Hotel will rise seven stories along Lehman Court. The overall development includes 52 parking spaces. Credit: Brininstool + Lynch/City of Chicago

The Covent Hotel’s renovation is part of a planned development that involves building a modern seven-story building designed by architecture firm Brininstool + Lynch in the parking lot east of the historical building. Adnani said the developer’s purchase of the parking lot will help finance the Covent’s rehab.

Although the new structure calls for 84 rental units, only two will be offered at an affordable rate. To satisfy the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance, the developers will pay the city $794,000 to cover the shortfall of on-site, low-cost units.

That money will go directly toward the funding renovation of the old Covent building, Adnani said.

“Everybody has come together from the time we purchased this building in 2016, and everybody’s excited and supportive of it,” Adnani said. “It’s been a true collaboration.”

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