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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

City To Seek Developers, Applicants For 1st Phase Of Woodlawn Affordable Housing Protections This Summer

The city will choose by the end of the year developers to build five projects that would bring about 350 apartments to 63rd Street.

Vacant lots along 63rd Street in the Woodlawn neighborhood on April 12, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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WOODLAWN — The city will choose developers for five affordable apartment buildings in Woodlawn by the fall, but the projects likely won’t be finished for eight to 10 years, housing and planning officials announced Thursday.

City officials presented a plan in February to seek developers’ proposals for five buildings on 13 vacant, city-owned properties along 63rd Street between Ingleside and University avenues.

The projects would mark the first step in fulfilling a 2020 ordinance requirement to boost Woodlawn’s affordable housing stock by redeveloping 52 city-owned lots. Under the ordinance, at least 30 percent of new apartments must be made affordable to “very low-income households.”

The developments would create up to 350 apartments, of which 95-105 would be affordable for residents making less than 50 percent of the area median income. That’s about $46,600 for a family of four.

Each development could be modeled after the Park Station project at 63rd Street and Maryland Avenue. Park Station, the first project approved under the 2020 Woodlawn housing ordinance, will be a five-story building with two “live-work” spaces and three storefronts. 

The city will begin requesting proposals in June for the five developments, housing Commissioner Marisa Novara said at Thursday’s 20th Ward meeting.

Before then, officials will hold an open house to “get more detailed feedback” on the neighborhood’s development priorities, Novara said. The city will recruit local developers and will select them this year, with the chosen proposals announced by October, she said.

In addition to reserving the 52 lots for affordable developments, the 2020 ordinance modified the City Lots for Working Families program, through which the city sells vacant lots to developers for $1. The developers then build affordable single-family homes and two-flats on the land.

The ordinance also extends a purchase price assistance program, through which Woodlawn residents can get up to $60,000 in grant funding toward buying a home.

The city’s proposed first phase for these homeownership programs roughly includes 63rd to 65th streets and Maryland to Greenwood avenues. It would then be expanded to the east and west, spanning from St. Lawrence to Woodlawn avenues, according to the February proposal.

Requests for applications to the homeownership programs will also be launched in June, Novara said.

“The private sector is going to continue to do what it has been doing,” planning Commissioner Maurice Cox said. “The end result — because we will force that component of affordability in the mix — is truly a neighborhood that has housing options that produce the kind of balance that I hear people want for the future of Woodlawn.”

Some residents and activists with the Obama CBA Coalition have voiced concerns with the city’s timeline, saying low-income residents are at an immediate risk of being displaced by the Obama Presidential Center.

“We demand more affordable housing today, not five years from today,” Marilyn Harper, a Woodlawn resident of 25 years and CBA Coalition activist, said at Thursday’s meeting.

Attendee Evelyn Johnson urged the city to prioritize developers’ history of maintaining their buildings and caring for tenants during the application process.

Other residents questioned the proposal to concentrate affordable apartments on 63rd Street, and they urged city officials to prioritize commercial development and other aspects of Woodlawn’s growth as much as they have affordable housing.

“I understand the cry for affordable housing, but if we can be balanced in what we’re doing, I think we can achieve what we want as a community,” said Jim Walton, president of the Kenwood Pointe Block Club on Woodlawn Avenue.

The city is “trying to do the best by the land that we do own” in Woodlawn while addressing the needs of the city’s other community areas, Novara said.

With the proposals for the first phase of redeveloping the 52 lots and the homeownership programs, city officials are trying to make the most of the “inadequate resources that we receive from the federal government,” Novara said.

“Our needs far exceed our resources,” Novara said. “You will never hear me argue that I have enough resources to meet the need for affordable housing in this city. Really, there’s no city in this country that does, because as a country we do not treat housing that you can afford as an entitlement.”

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