The former furniture factory will be repurposed to accommodate 148 one-to- four-bedroom units.
This affordable housing project, run by Mercy Housing Lakefront, has sparked controversy in recent months, mainly because some residents fear that such development will bring more crime to the neighborhood, lowering property values.
In efforts to inform residents about the development, local groups like Enlace and Erie Neighborhood House are organizing community meetings each month. They formed a steering committee that is working closely with Mercy Housing to ensure that Little Village families benefit from the housing development.
But despite the efforts, some say that insufficient outreach has left nearby residents feeling left out of the decision-making process and uninformed.
During one of the most recent meetings on Jan. 16 at SER Central States, Josefa Lara, who has owned a beauty salon for over 25 years, said she was clueless about the development. “I have a business by 26th and Kedvale and a property,” she said. “I found out about this through another business owner, otherwise I would have no idea.”
The Little Village Community Council (LVCC), a group that opposes the development, is organizing separate monthly meetings. The group is working on a plan to halt the development. According to Baltazar Enriquez, executive director of LVCC, the group has invited Ald. Ricardo Muñoz to its meetings, but the alderman hasn’t responded.
“The community is tired of being ignored,” Enriquez said to about 40 residents during a meeting on Jan. 23 at Piotrowski Park. “For what we know, the alderman has known about this for years. It’s a done deal.”
But according to Mercy Housing, the development’s financing is not yet secure and funding for the entire operation hasn’t yet been finalized.
“Anybody that tells you it’s a done deal is lying,” said 22nd Ward Ald. Ricardo Muñoz, who has expressed his support for the housing development in the past.
“We’re … talking about a significant number of four-bedroom units because those in Little Village are very rare,” Muñoz said. “And you know who needs them, large families where grandma lives with the aunt, the uncle and the nephew.”
A resident and teacher at Little Village Lawndale High School who attended the LVCC meeting at Piotrowski Park said she did not have enough information to either support or oppose the project. “I live and work here. I don’t know what side to pick,” she said.
Residents who oppose the development fear the plan will spur racial and socioeconomic tensions, given the troubled history of Section 8 housing in Chicago.
“It could go both ways,” Enriquez said. “CHA could bring in problem tenants, bringing down property values.” Or some of the Mercy units could be rented at market value and “There goes La Villita turning into another Pilsen,” he said.
Lisa Kuklinski, vice president of public affairs, stated previously for The Gate Newspaper that 60 percent of the units will be available to families, who make between $36,800 to $44,160 for a family of four. The rest of the units will be for residents who make less than $36,800, she said.
But Enriquez and other residents who oppose the project are misinformed, said Ald. Muñoz.
“You can’t say with a straight face that you’re gonna have a bunch of problem tenants, which is code for Black, and then say that you’re gentrifying the neighborhood.”
Representatives from Mercy Housing have repeatedly said that only a small portion of the total units will be designated for Section 8 recipients. They also said the Chicago Housing Authority will not be part of the management of the building.
At the Jan. 16 meeting, a Mercy Housing representative said he was willing to work with the local residents and ensure their concerns are fully discussed.
“We’re happy to sit down and talk. We want to make sure that we’re running a safe property that is proactive because we will keep it fully leased and without a lot of turnover,” Mark Angelini, a Mercy Housing representative, said.
According to Angelini, Mercy is also planning to hire people from the neighborhood. He said other Mercy properties have private security and some have residents’ associations that encourage tenant and management discussion about residential operations.
The steering committee members said they will work with the developer and CHA to create a site-based waiting list that would prioritize applications from South and North Lawndale residents in the proximity, within about a half-mile radius.
While there are limitations for undocumented families, some will be able to qualify as long as one member of the household is a citizen or legal permanent resident. For those applying under CHA, the head of the family must fulfill legal residency requirements.
LVCC will continue to organize against the 26th and Kostner development and will keep planning monthly meetings. The next one is expected to be at Epiphany Church, date TBA.
“We’re pushing for homeownership, the dream that every immigrant came with when he left Michoacan or his little town,” Enriquez said.
The following steering committee meeting will be on Feb. 20 at 6p.m. at SER Central States.
“I’ve known about various potential developments in that area,” said Michael Rodriguez, executive director of Enlace. “This finally has legs.”
As originally published in The Gate Newspaper by Jackie Serrato