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Humboldt Park Veterans Building Meeting Includes Call for 'Compassion'

By Darryl Holliday | December 18, 2014 9:42am
 More than 150 people filled the Humboldt Park Field House for a public meeting on the housing proposal.
65th Infantry Borinqueneers Building
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HUMBOLDT PARK — More than 200 people crowded into the Humboldt Park Field House Wednesday night for a community meeting on a proposed apartment building for veterans, a controversial project that has been marked by claims of racism and incompetence.

But the zoning meeting was mostly cordial, despite stark disagreements over construction of the 65th Infantry Borinqueneers Building, a four-story structure at 1045 N. Sacramento Blvd. that would provide 49 affordable housing units to eligible veterans in Humboldt Park.

“This is veterans housing that we can all participate in,” said Christopher LaFayelle, a veteran and member of the employment activist group Keep Illinois Working. “There are a bunch of us [veterans] here for a reason — this is real. This is what we support.”

 More than 150 people filled the Humboldt Park Field House for a public meeting on the housing proposal.
More than 150 people filled the Humboldt Park Field House for a public meeting on the housing proposal.
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DNAinfo/Darryl Holliday

Opposition had emerged swiftly against the proposal in October, largely from nearby neighbors who maintain that the 48-foot building is out of step with the neighborhood’s character.

However, there is support for the veterans building, including backing from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Gov. Pat Quinn, Humboldt Park Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) and an outspoken group of residents. Mayoral candidate Chuy Garcia made a brief, surprise appearance at the Wednesday night meeting to call for construction of the facility.

The next step is a review by the city Planning Commission, scheduled to Thursday, where the plan is expected to be approved.

According to Hipolito Roldan, president of the Hispanic Housing Development Corporation, the developer of the project, rent at the veterans building will range from around $700 to $1,000 for 1- to 3-bedroom units at a total construction cost of around $14 million. Roldan said he expects the corporation to make roughly 4 to 5 percent profit from the total cost.

“These 49 units are simply a drop in the bucket,” he said of the need for affordable housing in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. “It’s a piece of what could come to pass if we had resources.”

Loud applause erupted at the mere mention of “65th Infantry” as Roldan fielded questions from the audience and residents expressed support and objections to the proposal.

“Take one second to put yourself in another person’s shoes,” Kim McGraw, Chicago service platoon leader at the veterans group The Mission Continues, urged the opposition. “Let’s be the ones in the community who make a solution. There are so many families here who need a home.”

“And there’s a bigger picture,” said Maranjelyn Muniz, a Humboldt Park native born at nearby Norwegian American Hospital, which donated land for the veterans building. “You need to have compassion.”

But surprisingly little was made of claims of "coded racist language" from the opposition — accusations levied by both Maldonado and the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in the lead up to Wednesday’s meeting. In fact, the alderman quashed the single resident comment meant to illicit a race-oriented response.

“I’m very impressed with the quality of conversation we’ve had here,” Maldonado told the crowd. “It’s perfectly OK to express your opinions for and against [the proposal] … that’s why our veterans fought for us.”

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