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Colocating Affordable Housing and Library Services and Revitalizing a Neighborhood in Chicago
Chicago’s Roosevelt Square, approximately 94 acres on the city’s Near West Side, has been a focus of redevelopment led by the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) since at least the early 2000s. The neighborhood’s transformation began in 2002 with the demolition over 5 years of four public housing developments dating from the 1930s to the 1950s — large buildings cut off from the urban grid, collectively known as the ABLA Homes (an acronym derived from the developments’ names). Today, significant changes in Roosevelt Square are apparent, resulting in part from the city’s 2016 redevelopment master plan, which calls for mixed-use buildings and mixed-income housing constructed alongside civic assets such as educational, recreational, and public safety facilities. In one recently completed project, the Chicago Public Library (CPL) has colocated its Little Italy Branch with Taylor Street Apartments, providing 73 units of mixed-income housing above an expanded neighborhood institution. The project received the 2019 Smart Growth America LOCUS Leadership Project of the Year Award in recognition of its contribution toward creating a vibrant community and neighborhood.
Combining Affordable Housing with Civic Infrastructure
The Taylor Street Apartments and library project was completed in 2019 by developer Related Midwest, which also serves as the master developer for the Roosevelt Square redevelopment plan. The building is one of three developments in Chicago that colocates a public library with affordable housing. With the new branch and its programs, CPL is enhancing its presence as a civic institution. Libraries increasingly have begun proactively engaging with communities to increase social well-being, incubate new local businesses, enhance civic participation, and help people of all ages enhance their education.
CHA held design competitions to ensure that the developments would make a strong visual statement while being responsive to the local context. Architectural firm Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM) submitted the winning Taylor Street Apartments and library bid, a seven-story structure with a 15,000-square-foot library at ground level and housing above. Of the 73 total units, 46 are one-bedroom apartments and 27 are two-bedroom apartments. The sale of noncompetitive low-income housing tax credits (LIHTCs) generated nearly $10 million in equity that supported the construction of 29 affordable units. CHA contributed $17 million to construct 37 units. Both the CHA- and LIHTC-funded units rent to households whose income does not exceed 60 percent of the area median income, with rent subsidies for lower-income households occupying the CHA units. The remaining seven units rent at market rates. Amenities for residents include bicycle racks, a roof terrace, exercise room, and laundry room. Total development costs for the project were approximately $36 million. Of the total, nearly $25 million supported construction of the residential portion, and the remainder supported the library.
Table 1: Funding Sources for Taylor Street Apartments and Little Italy Branch
|CHA capital funds||17,000,000||17,000,000|
|Tax increment financing funds||$7,000,000||7,000,000|
|Commonwealth Edison energy-efficiency grant||1,215,522||1,215,522|
|Low-income housing tax credit equity||6,691,844||3,256,156||9,948,000|
Little Italy Branch, which was funded partially through LIHTCs, includes a multipurpose room that can be used for library events or civic activities such as voting and voter registration. With secure access from the residential part of the building, the meeting room is also available to host events and meetings specifically for apartment residents.
The library gives residents of the new apartments and the neighborhood easy access to numerous services. Parents and caregivers can develop young children’s literacy skills in an early learning play space. For older children, CPL offers YOUmedia, a program that allows teens to practice digital design, music composition and recording, and 3D and 2D making. Teens can borrow laptops, cameras, and music and gaming equipment, and onsite mentors help youth develop creative and technical skills. For adults, the library employs CyberNavigators, a group of technology tutors who teach basic computer skills. Staff from partner workforce organizations also help adults with résumé writing, interview preparation, and other job search tasks in addition to training in industry-specific skills. A senior book club and intergenerational educational and cultural programs are also available at Little Italy Branch.
Repairing the Neighborhood
Through Taylor Street Apartments and Little Italy Branch, CPL is helping CHA fulfill a long-term, multiphase effort to rehabilitate the Roosevelt Square neighborhood, which had been cleaved when the ABLA Homes were constructed. The rehabilitation effort stems from the 1969 Gautreaux et al. v. Chicago Housing Authority lawsuit. A series of court remedies compelled CHA to end racial discrimination in public housing; end the construction of new high-rise public housing developments; enable public housing residents to access neighborhoods of opportunity; and redevelop underresourced neighborhoods into mixed-income, economically diverse areas that promote long-term racial desegregation.
The redevelopment plan for Roosevelt Square, which continues earlier efforts to meet the equitable housing goals launched as a result of Gautreaux, calls for building up to 2,941 new housing units, nearly half of which will be affordable or public housing. Strategic use of density, as with Taylor Street Apartments, has helped CHA meet the plan’s goals for new units while not repeating the design flaws of the ABLA Homes. SOM’s design includes setback massing to reduce the building’s perceived scale and a façade incorporating terra-cotta that reflects the neighborhood’s historic architecture. The new developments also restore the street grid to remediate ABLA Homes’ isolation from the rest of the neighborhood. These design features help mitigate any sense that the building sits outside of and overpowers its context. The Taylor Street Apartments and library is also enhancing the use of publicly owned land, having been built on a former parking facility owned by CHA. Related Midwest’s next project for Roosevelt Square is the renovation of a historic building to create 15 housing units and provide space for the National Public Housing Museum.