‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: Uptown

Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood is among the most diverse in the city. It has long been home to immigrant and refugee communities.

The area has also long been an entertainment destination, dating back to the 1920s. It’s known for the historic Green Mill, Riviera Theatre and the Aragon Ballroom.

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This summer, a new gallery opened in the area — above the Green Mill —  with a focus on showing underrepresented artists. It has a new show opening Friday called “Ways of Seeing.”

“I do love art and I love seeing art from people that look like me and are able to depict stories that are relevant to me … We’re lucky and privileged here in Chicago to have so many gifted and talented Black and Brown artists, and just artists in general,” said Henok Misgina, owner and founder of Uptown Gallery.

Video: Watch our full interview with Henok Misgina

The area is also known for Argyle Street — the place to find Vietnamese food in Chicago. And as of this month, Argyle Street is one of 15 places across the city where Chicago Alfresco has opened.

It’s a city program designed to give communities more outdoor space for dining, arts, culture and public life. Choose Chicago approved 15 community applications and is distributing more than $2 million to help create spaces like the one in Uptown.

Community group Uptown United is using its funds to expand outdoor dining along Argyle.

The co-owner of an Argyle Street coffee shop called First Sip Cafe says she is excited about the Alfresco site.

“I think Argyle is a great neighborhood, I don’t think there’s enough walking pedestrians,” said Erin Hoang. “It’s going to be really cool because I think this is gonna encourage people to come here to dine outdoors and also just see the neighborhood, walk around, check out the different shops. So I think it will make the neighborhood more lively.”

Affordable Housing in Uptown

Similar to other communities across Chicago, gentrification is an issue at the top of many residents’ minds in Uptown.

Most recently, developers have planned a 314-unit luxury apartment building to be built on the site of a parking lot, currently next door to Weiss hospital at 4600 N. Marine Drive. Rents would range from $1,700 for a one-bedroom apartment up to $3,000 for bigger space, at market rate.

Despite already being approved by the Chicago zoning commission, it has plenty of opposition.

University of Illinois at Chicago professors Anna Romina Guevarra and Gayatri Reddy are among those against the development. They co-founded a project documenting displacement in Uptown.

“Less than half of the rental units in Uptown are actually affordable,” Guevarra said. “The number of affordable units in Uptown has declined by 8.7%, and that’s just between the period of 2012 and 2019. That is why there is a housing crisis here. Many individuals and families have been pushed out of this neighborhood.”

Guevarra notes that just across the street from where this apartment building would go, are several homeless encampments.

Across the street from where a luxury apartment building is planned to go in Uptown, are several homeless encampments. (WTTW News)Across the street from where a luxury apartment building is planned to go in Uptown, are several homeless encampments. (WTTW News)

She and other affordable housing advocates are concerned not only about the lack of affordable housing, but also the changing face of the neighborhood, if fewer communities of color can afford to live in Uptown.

State Sen. Mike Simmons represents Uptown, along with several surrounding neighborhoods. He sees a more widespread problem.

“This is a phenomenon we are seeing all across the North Side,” Simmons said. “We definitely see it on the Far North Side of Chicago, in Uptown, Edgewater, even up into Rogers Park. It really is important to ensure that we keep the affordable housing we have, and make sure we keep the neighborhoods affordable and accessible for the people who are longtime residents and newer people in the neighborhood who don’t make a lot of money and can’t afford those prices.”

In order to comply with the city’s affordable housing requirements ordinance, eight of this building’s 314 units will meet affordability requirements. At the time development was approved, the ordinance only required certain new Chicago housing developments to make 2.5% of its units to meet that criteria. It recently went up to 5%. The rent for those affordable units ranges from $900 a month for studios, to $1,100 a month for a two-bedroom.

Opponents to the development say even though eight units is compliant, it’s the bare minimum.

However, Ald. James Cappleman (46th Ward) supports the plan. He says he’s most concerned about people living at 30% or below the poverty line — on the brink of homelessness. The developer of the luxury apartment buildings, Lincoln Properties, is giving a local nonprofit that works with women facing homelessness just over $3 million.

“Of that group of renters, which is the largest group of renters, where 75% of them experience extreme financial hardship with meeting their monthly expenses,” Cappleman said. “With the [Affordable Requirements Ordinance], we’re focused on people earning 60% of the area median income. I want housing for people who are at high risk for living on the streets. I mean they want a toilet, they want a bed, they want a shower, and we don’t have enough of that.”

Video: Watch our full interview with Ald. James Cappleman

While the required affordable housing units are reserved for people at or below 60% of the area’s median income, the Sarah’s Circle — the nonprofit the developer is donating to  — supports those at or below 30% of the median income.

Sarah’s Circle says the money isn’t earmarked yet, but everything the organization does focuses on how to provide permanent housing for women who need it.

“We want to think long term in terms of developing permanent housing for people, we need to think short term because we are also dependent government agency support and donations, so $3 million goes a long way at Sarah’s Circle because we are really smart about it and think both in the long term and the short term,” said Margaret Egan, a board member at Sarah’s Circle.

Sarah’s Circle provides a number of services across its two current Uptown locations — a third is on the way — to provide interim housing for women experiencing homelessness, both from the neighborhood and across the city.

It also has 73 permanent housing units — apartments — for women who are working and ready to transition into their own place.

They’ve worked with architecture firm Perkins & Will who provided the service to design the three buildings Sarah’s Circle at no or low cost, keeping in mind how the women would use the spaces.

“We’re so happy to be able to continue our relationship and support the agency,” said Christopher Hale of Perkins & Will. “It’s been motivating and inspiring for us to be able to help them and make an impact on the community that way.”

One of the women who recently moved into permanent housing at Sarah’s Circle is 60-year-old June Merritt. She came to the organization eight years ago and has been living in her own apartment since March of this year.

“Peace of mind. I can rest. Definitely, a place to call my home,” Merritt said. “There should not be anyone living on the street. When I see that, it hurts me because I’ve never slept in a tent in that situation, but I do know what it’s like to be homeless.”

Community Reporting Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.

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