JEFFERSON PARK — Angel Crespo is one of the first residents at a long-awaited Jefferson Park housing development — and he never wants to leave.
Crespo, 32, who uses a wheelchair, moved into the accessible and affordable housing project at 5150 N. Northwest Highway two weeks ago.
The apartment complex by Full Circle Communities has been under construction since January 2020 after taking more than four years to get off the ground. It has 75 affordable apartments for veterans, older people and people with disabilities. Residents chosen out of the more than 700 who applied for apartments began moving in last month and will continue into the next few weeks, said Josh Wilmoth, CEO of Full Circle Communities.
An open house is planned for late spring or early summer so the community can meet neighbors and see the apartments, Wilmoth said.
“When I first came to see it, what I loved was how easy and handicapped-accessible it is and how beautiful it is,” Crespo said.
Crespo, who grew up in Jefferson Park, said the move is a homecoming of sorts, though the neighborhood has changed significantly from what he remembers.
Crespo said he is grateful to have been selected to live in the building, which is drastically different from his old apartment. His new home offers a panoramic view of the neighborhood and is quieter, safer and will allow him to more easily get to know the community and his neighbors, he said.
The amenities offered — a game and computer room, in-unit washer and dryer, a dog run and a pop-up pantry by Friendship Community Place, among others — were also big selling points, Crespo said.
“My old [apartment] was not accessible,” Crespo said. “I would have to climb 10 stairs up and down, carrying my wheelchair with me going up and down the stairs. It was so much stress and tiring by the end of the day. … Sometimes I would not go out because there were so many stairs, so I would just stay home.”
After years of furious and racially charged debate — which also included worries about density and increased traffic — many neighbors changed their perspective about the project once they learned more about it, Wilmoth previously told Block Club.
Crespo hopes to stay in his new studio long term, and he wants neighbors who opposed the development to give its residents a chance. The development is a positive and needed addition to the community, he said.
“I’m so happy to live here,” he said. “Every time I come home, it’s a breath of fresh air … . It’s amazing. That’s what you should feel about having your own place.”
Crespo was the first customer to take advantage of the pop-up pantry, which offers new and donated household and hygiene items to residents. He said it’s been a huge help in settling into his space.
Colorful photographs and murals by two local artists are also welcoming residents to the building.
Work by photographer Eric Craig, who has lived in Jefferson Park for 18 years, can be seen on all of the seven residential floors, in the computer room, in the lobby and in the leasing offices.
Seventy-four triptychs — a picture on three panels hinged together side by side — were chosen to light up the building. Each floor is themed and features Craig’s photos from Chicago and all over the world.
Craig said he’s “ecstatic” to have his work up in the building and hopes it can give residents a sense of belonging and access to art. The installation project is the biggest one he’s worked on, he said.
“It’s been a long run so to see it come to fruition, to see the beautiful space and get ready for the grand opening, is awesome,” Craig said.
Local artist Cyd Smilie, who has blanketed the Northwest Side with dozens of murals, painted a mural in the game room and one by the entrance. A large-scale mural is planned for the exterior wall near the parking lot.
Full Circle Communities collaborated with former 45th Ward Ald. John Arena and his wife to choose and install the artwork. Arena said the art brings life and energy to the building and is a reminder it can be accessible to everyone.
“It’s a beautiful building on its own, but every building needs some kind of presence that we can connect to as people,” Arena said. “And I’ve always talked about, just in our community, having a casual association with the arts in any way possible.”
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