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Englewood, Chatham, Auburn Gresham

South Side School Buildings Converted To Temporary Shelters To ‘Decompress’ Homeless Population

The city has already begun setting up 540 shelter beds at former schools in Auburn Gresham and Bronzeville.

Calumet High School at 8131 S. May St. and the former Young Women’s Leadership Academy at 2641 S. Calumet Ave.
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CHICAGO — Aldermen gave a nod on Tuesday to a proposal allowing the city’s Department of Family and Support Services to open temporary homeless shelters at two Chicago Public Schools buildings, acknowledging in the process that the city’s COVID-19-related housing crisis is only beginning.

Under the agreement (O2020-4101) advanced by the City Council zoning committee on Tuesday, the city will be allowed to manage about 540 total shelter beds at the former Calumet High School at 8131 S. May St. in Auburn Gresham in the 21st Ward and the closed Young Women’s Leadership Academy at 2641 S. Calumet Ave. in Bronzeville in the 4th Ward. The measure applies retroactively, because the department has already begun setting up homeless facilities in the building, and it is effective through March 1, 2021, according to Comm. Lisa Morrison Butler.

The expanded shelter sites are not adding extra beds to the city’s shelter capacity, but rather opening up space to “decompress” shelters to ease crowding and fight the spread of the pandemic in shelters, Butler said.

Following steps taken by Mayor Lori Lightfoot to fan out homelessness services at the outset of the pandemic, the department moved hundreds of beds into facilities operated by YMCA of Chicago and the Salvation Army. But the city “paid handsomely” in monthly rent to use those facilities, prompting the department to look for public buildings it can use instead.

RELATED: With aid from the federal government ‘not coming,’ Chicago is ‘stepping up,’ Lightfoot says

Under the approved agreement, the city does not have to pay rent for the spaces, but the department is faced with other costs, like installing showers and providing sheets and food. Officials are funding those services through Emergency Solutions Grants provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Butler said.

Ald. Sophia King (4th) said her ward is “stepping up and doing our part” to address homelessness in the short term, but she warned her colleagues that “there’s going to be a larger issue” as evictions and foreclosures pile up in the pandemic’s aftermath.

Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), who chairs the council’s housing committee, agreed, saying the city’s “shelter infrastructure was not strong” even before COVID-19. An expected increase in the city’s homeless population will represent yet another challenge for the city as it faces a $2 billion combined budget deficit for 2020 and 2021, he said.

“As we get into the budget process, we have to look to what the next year or two hold to make sure that we have a shelter system in place that can care for the people that are going to need it,” Osterman said.

Other zoning items approved

Also on Tuesday, the zoning committee advanced an ordinance (O2020-3978) allowing developers to submit planned development application fees in stages concurrent with multiple phases of their plans, instead of requiring the entire sum be paid up front.

Lightfoot proposed the measure on behalf of the city’s Department of Planning and Development, whose officials found that demanding the entire payment be submitted at once created “potential hurdles” for “projects that had multiple different development teams,” department zoning plan examiner Noah Szafraniec told committee members on Tuesday.

The committee also approved a zoning change (O2020-3883) allowing John Mangan and Robert Mangan to build a four-story, 14-unit residential building at 3419 N. Paulina St. in the 37th Ward.

Additionally, aldermen endorsed a proposal (O2019-9272) by Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) to downzone a swathe of the Tri-Taylor area near Western Avenue and Roosevelt Road, a move Ervin said would make future construction “more appropriate” in context with the surrounding area. The properties included in the rezone would be designated RT-3.5, meaning only small multi-unit residential buildings would be allowed by right.

Committee members approved all other development items listed in The Daily Line’s preview of the meeting, including Sulo Development’s proposal for a 58-unit condo building (O2018-9330) at 19 N. May St. in the 25th Ward and Bond Companies’ plan (O2019-9350) to build an eight-story, 113-unit apartment building at 1140 W. Erie St. in the 27th Ward.

All items are set for final approval by the full City Council on Wednesday.