HUMBOLDT PARK — About a decade ago, Puerto Rican Cultural Center leader Jose Lopez approached then-freshman Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) about building affordable housing for Latino artists on Humboldt Park’s Division Street.
Lopez, a longtime advocate for Chicago’s Puerto Rican community, pestered Maldonado for years to make the development a reality. Now, it’s finally coming to fruition as the local leaders joined a ceremonial groundbreaking Thursday for the Nancy Franco-Maldonado Paseo Boricua Arts Building at 2709-15 W. Division St., the former home of the Ashland Sausage Company.
“He came and spoke to me and talked to me about the idea, the fantasy … I thought it was a fantasy,” Maldonado said of Lopez’s proposal. “And he told me, ‘Roberto, we gotta do this.’ I said, ‘How are we going to get the money?’ He said, ‘We’ll get the money.'”
Named after Maldonado’s late wife, Nancy, who was also a champion of the project, the five-story building will house 24 affordable housing units reserved for people earning between 30 and 60 percent of the area median income, a 99-seat theater on the ground floor and two retail spaces. The apartments will be marketed to artists and their families, though anyone who qualifies will be eligible to rent them, developers have said.
The building is expected to open next August. Construction started earlier this summer.
Maldonado said he hopes the project will help preserve the neighborhood’s Puerto Rican identity “at a time when we have seen so many historically Latino communities vanish to gentrification,” like the displacement generated in part by The 606’s Bloomingdale Trail.
“This development will be the catalyst to … keep our vision for Division Street that we have had since 2005 — to establish a Latin American restaurant and entertainment district surrounded by hundreds of affordable housing units, sending a clear message: We are not for gentrification along Puerto Rico Town,” the alderman said, referring to the new name for Division Street, the heart of the Humboldt Park’s Puerto Rican community.
The project required a patchwork of funding, which delayed the start of construction, officials said at the ceremony.
Lopez’s Puerto Rican Cultural Center bought the land in 2014. Suburban-based developer Brinshore signed onto the project and received a huge boost four years later in the form of $4.25 million in tax-increment finance dollars.
Last year, Mayor Lori Lightfoot introduced an ordinance allowing Brinshore to use $12 million in tax-exempt housing bonds, double what was previously approved, propelling the project forward.
Marisa Novara, commissioner of the city’s Department of Housing, praised Maldonado for his broader commitment to affordable housing across the 26th Ward to combat displacement of longtime residents, one of his campaign promises.
Kristin Faust, executive director of the Illinois Housing Development Authority, credited Maldonado, Lopez and other passionate community leaders for sticking with the project despite the financial and logistical challenges.
“It’s not just brilliance and charm that get you money from IHDA,” Faust said. “We have a very competitive process. Our money is oversubscribed 3-to-1. We have rankings and scorings and you have to be really good, you have to be the best projects to really get the funds …. and so, I wasn’t surprised when I got the list and saw the scores and this project was there.”
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