Mixed-income housing going up in East Garfield Park: ‘Everyone in the city of Chicago deserves to have a roof over their head’

A dream to turn a set of vacant lots into something productive — one that’s outlasted two mayoral administrations — is finally taking shape on the West Side.

Community leaders and residents who have pushed for the city to develop the land it owned at 5th and Kedzie avenues since Rahm Emmanuel was mayor celebrated on Wednesday the beginning of construction on a mixed-income development there. 

The development — named Fifth City for the area of East Garfield Park it’s in — will bring dozens of rental units and thousands of square feet of retail space to a site a half-mile from the CTA’s Green Line. Construction is more than a year away from completion and a share of the units are intended to be affordable for neighborhood residents.

“Building affordable housing is not just the right thing to do but it’s the smart approach for keeping neighborhoods safe and strong,” said Mayor Brandon Johnson, who spoke at Wednesday’s celebration. 

“Everyone in the city of Chicago deserves to have a roof over their head,” he added. “It’s a matter of providing dignity and prosperity to everyone.”

Mayor Brandon Johnson speaks in East Garfield Park on Wednesday, July 26, 2023 in Chicago. | Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

Mayor Brandon Johnson at the groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday for a development in East Garfield Park.

Apartments in the 43-unit building would be available to renters making at most 80% of the Chicago metropolitan area median income.

That median income is $88,250 for a family of four. The nonprofit behind the project, Preservation of Affordable Housing, said 11 units would be available to those earning at or below 30% of that income, or $33,090, while 23 units would be for for those earning above 30% but below 60% of that income, or $66,180.

Even at those reduced rates, the rent still could be beyond the means of many living nearest to the property. The area median income for the local ZIP Code is just $27,872, according to the Chicago Health Atlas.

The development is in the 28th Ward, and local Ald. Jason Ervin attended the groundbreaking. Asked whether the development could spur gentrification, Ervin said the area “definitely” needs even more affordable units, but that the project’s success depended on a range of incomes. 

“We want this to be for working families,” he said.

Mayor Brandon Johnson and Ald. Jason Ervin (28th).

Mayor Brandon Johnson and Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) at Wednesday’s groundbreaking ceremony.

The development is largely funded through low-income housing tax credits, covering $17 million of the $30 million project, said Bill Eager, who runs the Midwest region of the nonprofit Preservation of Affordable Housing.

The projected cost has increased since the plan was first submitted to City Hall in 2021. That plan included 81 units for $25 million. Eager said the higher per-unit cost — more than double the original plan — is due to inflation and interest rates, which have hit developers nationwide.

POAH plans to build a second 30-unit development at the site beginning in 2025, costing an estimated $10 million and $15 million.

Gina Jamison, president of the Garfield Park Advisory Council, also attended the event. A neighborhood native, she sees the project as the beginning of a chance to return to what it was when her parents moved there. 

“I want to make this place look like how it did in 1950. There were the businesses we had there. The Marlboro theater,” she said. “We’re bringing back the precious scenery of Garfield Park.”

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

A rendering of the mixed-income development that nonprofit Preservation of Affordable Housing is building on vacant land in East Garfield Park.

A rendering of the mixed-income development that nonprofit Preservation of Affordable Housing is building on vacant land in East Garfield Park. The 43-unit building at 5th and Kedzie avenues would also have thousands of square feet of retail space. Construction is expected to take over a year.

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