HUMBOLDT PARK — New housing for the homeless, and a community center aimed at helping some 2,000 people per year, is part of a huge project underway by La Casa Norte, a Humboldt Park-based nonprofit group.
The community-focused organization wants to provide services to the homeless while building on West North Avenue in an area that has not seen significant investment in years.
"It's really exciting because that part of North Avenue and the western part of Humboldt Park has not seen a lot of recent development in the past decade," said Sol Flores, executive director of La Casa Norte.
The new center, which is being built at 3335 W. North Ave., will include 25 housing units for youth and families who are homeless. Those apartments will include studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units.
To live in the units, one must either be a chronically homeless young person between the ages of 18 and 24 or a homeless family.
La Casa Norte broke ground on the project earlier this month, but the project has been in development for six years.
"This is an enormous lift for our organization," Flores said. "It feels really incredible to get to this place."
Flores was a founding executive director of the organization, which is celebrating its 14th year.
The $18 million project also includes plans for a homeless youth drop-in center, a community healthcare center, a cafe and food pantry and distribution of emergency toiletries and clothing.
"The new center will provide resources, dignity and safety in the heart of the community," Flores said. The new development, called The Foundation Project, is La Casa Norte's largest project in its history.
La Casa Norte has raised $16.5 million of its $18 million goal for the project, according to an announcement of the plans.
The project is being funded through a variety of methods including Tax Increment Financing District money and funds from the affordable housing ordinance. In the latter, developers who chose not to include affordable housing units in projects must pay into this separate fund.
The project, which stretches four-and-a-half city lots, is expected to be complete in 2018.
LaCasa Norte was founded in 2002 by businessman Keith Decker and the Rev. Peter McQueen of St. John United Church of Christ. The two were active in helping the homeless and noticed the lack of services for needy young men between the ages of 16 and 21.
Flores is excited about the project bringing trees back to the streetscape along that stretch of North Avenue.
There's only one tree on that block currently.
"What does that tell you?" Flores said. "There's been no reinvestment or new development on that part of the corridor for a decade."
The site of the new development before it was demolished.