Effort to Build More Affordable Housing on Far Northwest Side Faces Crucial Vote

A rendering of the proposed apartment complex near Lawrence and Austin avenues in Jefferson Park. (Credit: Canopy Chicago)A rendering of the proposed apartment complex near Lawrence and Austin avenues in Jefferson Park. (Credit: Canopy Chicago)

A plan to transform a long-vacant lot in Jefferson Park into an apartment complex that reignited the furious debate surrounding Chicago’s massive affordable housing shortfall faces a key vote Tuesday.

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Even though the development from Full Circle Communities has already secured $1.5 million in Low-Income Housing Tax Credits from the Illinois Housing Development Authority, members of the City Council’s Zoning Committee are scheduled on Tuesday to weigh a request from Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th Ward) to change the zoning for the 1.5-acre piece of land in an effort to prevent the 48-unit complex from being built.

Sposato told WTTW News on Monday that Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara asked him to withdraw the zoning change request and allow the project to be built. He declined, setting up a showdown at Tuesday’s meeting.

The Department of Housing is in support of the Full Circle plan, and is willing to provide the development with tax credits of up to $1.63 million, or the property’s appraised value, according to a statement from the department.

‘The administration is committed to meeting the urgent need made clear — from residents and businesses alike — to make Chicago more affordable and livable by increasing the supply of affordable housing in every neighborhood,” said spokesperson Eugenia Orr. “This is especially true near transit rail stations and high priority bus lines, where there is demand for dense, walkable and affordable housing and retail.”

The plan from Full Circle Communities calls for two four-story buildings with 48 units to be built near Lawrence and Austin avenues on the Far Northwest Side, where many residents pride themselves on a lack of multifamily unit housing and relish the suburban-like vibe of their community.

The proposal at 6001 W. Lawrence Ave. would be the second development from Full Circle Communities in Jefferson Park. Construction is underway on a 75-unit complex at 5150 N. Northwest Highway — but only after years of highly charged debate and controversy that contributed to former 45th Ward Ald. John Arena’s defeat in 2019.

Full Circle Communities CEO Joshua Wilmoth said he learned from the searing experience of 5150 N. Northwest Highway, which needed a zoning change approved by the Chicago City Council to be built. The original plan for the complex called for the building to be seven stories and 100 units, which was criticized as too tall and too dense for the area.

Wilmoth said that’s why plans call for both of the two buildings — one with 22 units and the other with 26 units — at Lawrence and Austin to be four stories, as requested by many of the critics of the plan for 5150 N. Northwest Highway, Wilmoth said. 

Wilmoth said he had hoped that the fact that the complex at Lawrence and Austin could be built without a zoning change would make the entire process smoother.

However, that hope was in vain.

Sposato, a former firefighter, said he continues to oppose the proposal because he said it was — like the plan for 5150 N. Northwest Highway — too dense, too tall and a bad fit for the Far Northwest Side because it does not have enough vehicle parking spaces.

Originally, the plan called for 36 parking spaces, which Sposato said was too few. 

In response to the alderman’s objection, Wilmoth agreed to add nine parking spaces and identify 10 additional parking spaces to be used by residents if needed.

Sposato said that was still not enough, saying each unit should have its own designated vehicle parking spot at a minimum.

Sposato said he expected Mayor Lori Lightfoot and aldermen who support the creation of more affordable housing on the North and Northwest sides to attempt to block his measure from advancing from the Zoning Committee on Tuesday. If it does advance, the full City Council could vote on it on Wednesday.

If those votes occur, they would test the City Council’s commitment to the unwritten, decades-old practice of giving aldermen a veto over developments in their wards, known as aldermanic prerogative.

It will also test whether Lightfoot will be able to fulfill her central campaign promise to end aldermanic prerogative. She has yet to propose changes to the city’s zoning code or directly confront the practice.

Groups working to desegregate the city by building more affordable housing on the North and Northwest sides have blamed aldermanic prerogative for concentrating housing designed for the poorest Chicagoans on the South and West sides of the city.

Veterans and disabled prospective tenants would get priority for the proposed Lawrence and Austin apartments, which are set to rent for between $440 and $780 per month for a studio unit; from $475 to $1,337 per month for a one-bedroom unit; from $570 to $1,604 per month for a two-bedroom unit; and from $660 to $1,854 per month for a three-bedroom unit, according to the plan from Full Circle Communities.

The proposed complex would include three studio units, 17 one-bedroom units, 16 two-bedroom units and 12 three-bedroom units, according to the plan.

Fifteen units will be set aside for tenants earning 30% of the area’s median income, which is $27,300 for a family of four. Fourteen units will be set aside for tenants earning 50% of the area’s median income, which is $45,500 for a family of four. Nineteen units will be set aside for tenants earning 80% of the area’s median income, which is $72,800 for a family of four, according to Full Circle Communities.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]


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