WEST RIDGE — RefugeeOne has helped newly arrived refugees resettle in Chicago, often finding them housing and jobs in the nonprofit’s home base of Uptown, for more than three decades.
But the center of refugee life in Chicago has shifted from Uptown — where development and gentrification have driven up housing prices — to neighborhoods like West Ridge, Rogers Park and Albany Park.
Forced to leave its longtime Uptown offices to make way for redevelopment, RefugeeOne has moved into the West Ridge community, thanks to the help of a donor who gifted the group an office building.
“In the last 10 years, Uptown has become more expensive,” said Jims Porter, advocacy manager for RefugeeOne. “It’s been years since we’ve been able to settle refugees in Uptown. They’ve moved to West Ridge. A lot of our clients will be able to walk to our [new] location.”
RefugeeOne formed in 1982 and has become the preeminent refugee services group in the city. The group has called Uptown home for 35 years, and it was a longtime tenant of the historic Bridgeview Bank Building.
The bank building, 4753 N. Broadway, was bought last year by Cedar Street, the prolific developers specializing in rehabbing old buildings into luxury apartments. Cedar Street plans to add 176 rental units to the building with an expected completion date next year, according to its website.
Cedar Street last year asked the building’s tenants — primarily comprising nonprofit service organizations — to vacate the property, Block Club reported. RefugeeOne had to leave the building by the end of August, Porter said.
The situation allowed RefugeeOne to think of how a move could best help its clients. But the first attempt to relocate closer to where refugees live and create a new headquarters for all of its services hit a snag.
The group bought the office building at 2800 W. Peterson Ave., with plans to move into the building this fall. But upon closer inspection, RefugeeOne determined it would be more cost-effective to demolish the building and start over rather than do a gut rehab, Porter said.
With the deadline for their move looming, a husband-and-wife couple heard about RefugeeOne’s situation on a WBEZ segment and reached out with a proposal.
The couple offered to donate the office building at 5705 N. Lincoln Ave. to RefugeeOne, Porter said. The nearly 6,000-square-foot office building previously held a charitable dental office.
RefugeeOne took ownership of the building earlier this year, property records show, allowing the group to operate out of the Lincoln Avenue offices until their new building is finished.
“We’re incredibly, incredibly fortunate,” Porter said. “It’s perfect to be operating out of now, since we’re at a limited capacity due to COVID.”
RefugeeOne plans to build a space about three times the size of the Lincoln Avenue office. It will eventually house all of the organization’s efforts, bringing its sewing workshop and a child center under one roof for the first time in the group’s history, Porter said.
The project could cost as much as $5 million, Porter said. A capital fundraising campaign for the new headquarters is forthcoming.
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