HUMBOLDT PARK — A proposal to build affordable housing for veterans in Humboldt Park continues to stir opinion, with the local alderman recently calling some comments by opponents on social media racist.
The 65th Infantry Borinqueneers Building, a proposal from the Hispanic Housing Development Corp. would construct 49 affordable rental units for veterans on a one-acre lot at 1045 N. Sacramento Blvd.
Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th), who supports the project, said in a Dec. 12 statement that “expressions on social media from those opposed to having veterans as their neighbors cross the line into sounding like racist and cruel comments.”
“I'm proud to support the proposed veterans housing in our ward, made possible by Norwegian Hospital's generous donation of almost a 100-year lease,” Maldonado said in the statement, joining the Cultural Center in a call to support the proposal. “But I am saddened and disturbed by the opposition's comments on social media that fuel negative stereotypes about our returning vets.”
The Puerto Rican Cultural Center has also said the opposition is race-based.
But Humboldt Park Neighbors, a group of homeowners opposed to the proposal, said the racism charge was unfair. The group says it supports affordable housing for veterans but the development as proposed would negatively increase density for the neighborhood.
"We are concerned that some have referenced [our] petition as a 'racist online petition' because we believe it is not productive for anyone in our community to use this terminology to describe the efforts of our diverse neighborhood group who is composed of members who live in and work towards the well-being of all in Humboldt Park," the Neighbors group said in a statement Monday.
"Our members have worked to put together community gardens and a new playground that benefits all," the statement continues. "Our community members attend Advisory Council meetings, attend CAPS meetings and request services for the entire community. We stand ready to continue those efforts."
The neighborhood group also says the developer has a "poor track record" of maintaining some of its other properties.
The $42.6 million building is named after the 65th Infantry, a Puerto Rican regiment of the U.S. Army that was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in June for more than a century of heroism and service.
The complex would include a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments for veterans earning up to 60 percent of area median income.
Maldonado said "one myth circulated by the opposition" is that homeless vets will be concentrated there.
"Almost 80 percent of the apartments will be filled by veterans and their families,” Maldonado wrote. “Clearly, this is an investment in our heroes and their families who have served their country honorably.”
The battle over the proposal is expected to come to a head Dec. 17 at 5:30 p.m. at the Humboldt Park Field House, as both groups have urged their supporters to attend ahead of a city hearing on the proposal expected for the very next day, Dec. 18.
Full text of the Humboldt Park Neighbors petition can be found here.