AUBURN GRESHAM — A.J. Patton and Erica Johnson fought for years to get funding from banks so they could build affordable housing in Auburn Gresham — and on Friday, they finally broke ground on an affordable apartment building.
The two were flanked by partners, colleagues, investors and public officials as they stood triumphant at the spot that will be an affordable, solar-powered apartment building at 1370 W. 79th St.
The project is one of two that 548 Capital — a Black-led development firm — is bringing to the Southwest Side. The team is working on a similar project in the 7700 block of South Carpenter Street.
“Everything we do will touch low-income families,” Patton said. “We’re just at the beginning, and I’ve got a much bigger vision for our communities.”
The housing development will have a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units, providing more than 40 units of energy-efficient housing. The total cost of the project is $1.5 million.
Patton, 548 Capital’s CEO, Johnson, the firm’s president, and their team hope to have the units ready by spring.
548 Capital chief operating officer Vincent Mason said when the team first saw the building in 2019, they saw a good opportunity to bring in amenities usually reserved for upscale developments.
“We’re changing out the electrical and plumbing and providing insulated walls, windows and roofing,” Mason said. “And units will have Energy Star appliances. We want to provide the nice, livable conditions that we didn’t grow up with.”
Among the throng of supporters and admirers at Friday’s groundbreaking was Oliver Kupe, one of the firm’s first investors. Kupe met Patton when the latter was moonlighting as an Uber driver and was struck by the young man’s vision and tenacity.
“The moment I met A.J. I knew he was going to get it done,” Kupe said. “I’m so proud of him and so honored to be a part of this. It’s not so much about the investment but what it does for the community.”
State Rep. Mary Flowers, who had an office in the building 30 years ago, commended the the team for reinvesting in the community.
“The policies we make in Springfield make wealthy people wealthier, but African Americans don’t see any return on our dollars, we don’t see the jobs, the education, the equity. It’s time for a change,” Flowers said.
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