ROGERS PARK — A planned LGBT-friendly senior housing center proposed for a prominent corner in Rogers Park may not be the best use of the space, according to Ald. Maria Hadden’s office.
In November, two mission-based developers teamed up to publicly unveil plans for an affordable housing development at the corner of Howard Street and Ashland Avenue. The plan would bring 81 apartments earmarked for senior citizens and artists to the corner, which is now a city-owned lot housing a community garden.
After hearing from residents and conducting more due diligence on the proposal, Hadden (49th) told constituents last week that a number of “concerns” about the development have arisen.
Those concerns include a lack of need for such housing in the area and non-profit developer Alden Foundation’s ties to its sister organization, which runs a chain of local nursing homes “with a spotty safety record,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
Alden Foundation envisioned the development as LGBT-friendly, but the group has “little-to-no experience” working with that population, said said Torrence Gardner, director of economic and community development for the 49th Ward.
Hadden’s office also conducted a housing market analysis review of the neighborhood, which determined that the proposed senior living and artists lofts were not the most needed housing type in the ward, Gardner said. Out of 55,000 residents, about 5,000 are senior citizens, he said. The community said family-sized affordable housing is a more pressing need.
“This did not appear to be based on a 49th Ward need,” Gardner said.
At the public meeting regarding the development, residents asked about the Alden Foundation’s ties to the Alden Network, a nursing home operator. The Alden Network operates over 20 nursing homes in Illinois and Wisconsin that have received poor safety reports, according to a Tribune report. That includes the most poorly rated nursing home in the city, Wentworth Rehab on the South Side.
The Alden Foundation develops and manages affordable housing for seniors. At the meeting, Executive Director Beth Demes said her organization is separate from the Alden Network. Gardner said the ward office is still trying to determine the relationship between the two organizations.
Demes could not be reached for comment.
The Alden Foundation teamed up with Minneapolis-based Artspace on the proposed Rogers Park senior housing and artist live/work space project. Plans called for a five-story, 96,600-square-foot complex to be built at 7519 N. Ashland Ave. The complex would have 81 units over two wings, one for the artists’ space and one for the senior living center. (The ward office has not taken issue with Artspace, Gardner said.)
The site at Howard and Ashland is earmarked for a transit-oriented development, a city program that eases parking requirements for large developments located near major public transportation hubs. A more dense development might be appropriate for the space, both residents and the ward office have said.
Finally, the Alden Foundation applied for low-income housing tax credits with the city without telling Hadden’s office, Gardner said. Though aldermanic approval of such requests are no longer required, the late notice threw off the community input process, which Hadden has championed, Gardner said.
Hadden would like to see the community have a bigger say in what should be built at Howard and Ashland.
“A lot of folks thought it was a done deal,” Gardner said. “We want a community process to determine the best use of the site.”
The proposal can move begin to move forward if it is awarded tax credits this spring, though Hadden has registered her complaints with the Department of Housing. If tax credits are approved, the development would then need a rezoning request approved before being able to build, Gardner said. Hadden will have more input in the zoning request than the tax credit approval process.
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