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Ahead Of Puerto Rican Festival And Parade, Redevelopment Of Beloved Humboldt Park Community Center Moves Forward

A demolition permit was issued for the two-story brick building at 1237 N. California Ave. on Monday. An affordable housing development with apartments geared toward families and seniors will take its place.

Locals fought for months to keep Casa Puertorriqueña, 1237 N. California Ave., the neighborhood's Puerto Rican hub, out of the hands of luxury developers.
Mina Bloom/Block Club Chicago
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HUMBOLDT PARK — The building that houses beloved Puerto Rican community center La Casa Puertorriqueña will soon come down to make way for an affordable housing development geared toward families and seniors.

A demolition permit was issued for the two-story brick building at 1237 N. California Ave. on Monday, according to Chicago Cityscape, a site that tracks city permits.

Nonprofit developer Hispanic Housing Development Corporation bought the building from Puerto Rican Parade Committee of Chicago for about $1 million in January, Cook County property records show.

The sale of the debt-ridden building had to be approved by a judge because the Puerto Rican Parade Committee of Chicago is in deep financial trouble. The committee owes just over $900,000 to various creditors, according to bankruptcy court documents. It set out to sell its largest asset, the building that houses La Casa Puertorriqueña, in an effort to pay off its debt.

Asked for details on the redevelopment project, Paul Roldan, president of Hispanic Housing Development Corporation, said in an email that the project is “part of a larger comprehensive plan with the community which will be centered around the concept of ‘Puerto Rico Town.'”

“Our immediate plan is to develop affordable housing for families at 1237 N. California,” Roldan wrote.

Last November, Roldan told Block Club his team wants to convert the site into an affordable housing project with apartments geared toward families and seniors. Whether or not that will include a revamped community center is unclear.

Roldan previously said of the community center component: “It’s an important question we need to figure out with the rest of the community.”

La Casa Puertorriqueña has served as the “heart” of Humboldt Park’s Puerto Rican community for decades, hosting everything from charity events to weekly senior citizen bingo.

In November of 2018, it was revealed that the Puerto Rican Parade Committee of Chicago was looking to sell the community center building. The move was met with fierce opposition from locals and Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th). They feared a developer would swoop in and replace the beloved Puerto Rican hub with luxury condos or a similar project without getting community input.

Maldonado tried to downzone the property as a way of blocking potential luxury developers from razing the building and constructing a development that doesn’t serve the community. At the time, condo developers were clamoring to buy the building.

Ultimately, though, a judge awarded the building to Hispanic Housing Development Corporation, the highest bidder. Locals were relieved because the nonprofit developer, founded in 1975, has a reputation for building affordable housing geared toward Latino residents.

Credit: GoogleMaps
The La Casa Puertorriqueña building at 1237 N. California Ave.

Roldan previously said the judge’s ruling sent an important message in gentrifying Humboldt Park.

“This is less about affordable housing developments, and more about trying to salvage a population of people who have been living in Humboldt Park for 30, 40 and 50 years,” he previously said.

Controversy has swirled around the Puerto Rican Parade Committee of Chicago for years.

In addition to the bankruptcy proceedings, the committee is also under investigation by the Illinois attorney general’s office for alleged financial misconduct, including claims that officials stole ticket money from this year’s parade. Chicago Police were also investigating the claims, but that investigation has since been dropped, according to the Tribune.

The current issues follow years of infighting after the Puerto Rican Parade Committee, which formed in 1964 to oversee the former downtown Puerto Rican Day Parade, was merged in 2013 with the Puerto Rican People’s Parade, which plans Humboldt Park’s annual parade.

That follows a lawsuit filed in 2013 alleging financial and managerial misconduct by then-president Angel “Tito” Medina and former committee staffers, including misuse of loans granted by Medina’s wife and loans being repaid at “an unreasonably high rate of interest.”

The demolition permit comes just a few days before the annual Puerto Rican parade and festival, set for June 13-16 in Humboldt Park.

The event has been organized by the Puerto Rican Parade Committee of Chicago for the last several years. But because of the recent controversy, this year’s event is being organized by a new committee, called the Daniel Ramos Puerto Rican Festival Committee. None of the previous members are involved, the Tribune reported

A board made of representatives from a dozen community organizations will oversee the organization, according to the Tribune. An attempt to reach the new committee was not immediately successful.

The move is welcome news to locals who are concerned by the constant negative headlines surrounding the Puerto Rican Parade Committee of Chicago.

“I think that for the first time in many years, this festival is going to be run by a group of stakeholders with the highest sense of integrity,” Maldonado told the Tribune.

Redeveloping the Casa, as it’s commonly called, is just one piece of Hispanic Housing Development Corporation’s grand plans for the neighborhood.

Roldan previously said they’re currently under contract to buy the large vacant lot at California Avenue and Division Street and build 40 units of family housing there. A proposal to build a “co-living” apartment complex on the site fell through over the summer.

They’re also looking to build a 111-unit senior housing center on part of Roberto Clemente High School’s parking lot, Roldan has said. 

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