ALBANY PARK — The life and legacy of community organizer Maria Elena Sifuentes was celebrated with music at a ceremonial groundbreaking of a $24.2 million affordable housing development named after her.
Sifuentes was a member of Community United’s housing justice team and fought tirelessly for the kind of affordable housing being built at the empty lot at 3557 W. Lawrence Ave. She died last year from COVID-19.
Once complete, the six-story building will feature 50 apartments aimed at helping neighbors who might have been priced out of the neighborhood otherwise due to gentrification.
Concordia Place also plans to open an early childhood care center on the ground floor of the building and offer free or low-cost child care to residents of the building.
“Albany Park is a place that stands out in Chicago in a city that is so segregated. Here in Albany Park, everybody is together and we want to be able to preserve that,” said Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd). “But that has been under threat due to the reality of gentrification.”
Rodriguez-Sanchez has advocated for more affordable housing in the ward, and the Maria Elena Sifuentes Apartments are the first planned development to successfully go through her community zoning process.
The building will have 42 apartments affordable to households earning 60 percent or below the area median income. It will have multi-tiered rental rates, while an additional eight units will be set aside to accommodate households at or below 80 percent of the area median income.
Fifteen apartments will be set aside for neighbors with an income of as low as $14,000 a year, according to developers.
Construction was able to move forward, in part, due to highly competitive tax credits from the city, as well as $2.5 million in tax increment financing funds.
There will be bilingual staff members, services and signs throughout the property, according to the developer.
Developer Celadon Partners announced plans for the development in 2020 and had originally intended to name the project the Metropolitan Apartments.
But after Sifuentes died, the developer reached out to her daughter, Veronica Sifuentes, asking if the family would be on board with naming the building after her.
“It was exciting. It was kind of like, ‘You did it, mom,” Veronica Sifuentes said. “All those hours we saw her put in with meetings, talking to people and lobbying. And now here we are.”
Friday’s groundbreaking happened on what would have been Maria Elena Sifuentes’ 58th birthday.
It was attended by Sifuentes’ friends and family, as well as elected officials. There was music from Mariachi Los Palmeros de Chicago alongside the sound of construction from work crews pouring the building’s foundation.
“This is such a celebration. And I’ve got to say, most of the time when we do a groundbreaking it’s rather ceremonial,” said Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara. “This is amazing.”
Veronica Sifuentes thinks her mother would have approved of the noisy construction in the background during Friday’s event.
“She was very much about getting the work done and seeing the fruits of that labor and seeing through,” Veronica Sifuentes said. “She would get a project and wanted to see it through to make sure it actually happened.”
The apartments will have community-produced art and mural installations commissioned from within Albany Park by Community United’s Renters Organizing Ourselves to Stay team.
Merced Alday, a housing leader with Communities United and 28-year Albany Park resident, said she and her family of four fear being priced out of the neighborhood after a someone bought the building she lives in recently and raised her rent. She plans to get on the waiting list for the Maria Elena Sifuentes Apartments as soon as she can, she said.
“We don’t want to choose between how much food we eat or if we can pay our rent,” Alday said in Spanish. “I’m not the only person in this situation. … That is why we need these kinds of programs.”
Construction on the building began in January and is expected to be complete by April 2023, said Aron Weisner, principal at Celadon Partners.
Information on how to apply for housing at the development will be shared on the 33rd Ward and Celadon websites in the next few weeks, Weisner said. They’ll begin reviewing applications by fall, which is sooner than planned because there’s been so much demand, Weisner said.
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