LOGAN SQUARE — Most neighbors at a Tuesday community meeting cheered a plan to build a LGBTQ-friendly affordable housing complex in Logan Square, saying it would bring much-needed affordable units to a neighborhood that continues to see rent hikes.
"I'm pleased to see more affordable housing replace what's leaving the neighborhood, especially the demise of the older properties," said resident Vicky Schmidt, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1991.
"I moved here because it was one of the most economically and ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the city, and I want to see it stay that way," she said.
Schmidt was among more than 75 neighbors who packed into Concord Music Hall, 2047 N. Milwaukee Ave., for the community meeting hosted by Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) and representatives from the development team, including Richard Gonzalez, president of Metropolitan Housing Development Corp., and zoning attorney Nick Ftikas.
The team is seeking a zoning change and planned development approval to build the project, which would be the second of its kind in the city after the Town Hall Apartments in Lakeview.
While a few neighbors expressed concerns such as parking issues and a lack of family units, many of them spoke in favor of the concept.
First announced in May, the project calls for a seven-story building at the site of Congress Pizzeria, 2033 N. Milwaukee Ave., offering 88 affordable housing units, 18 parking spaces and 2,400 square feet of retail space.
The housing would be a mix of reasonably priced units restricted to households earning up to 60 percent of the area median income and public housing units — all marketed toward the LGBTQ community. Of the 88 units, 28 would be studios, 48 would be one-bedroom units and 12 would be two-bedroom units.
The units would be geared towards singles and couples who either work or have family roots in the neighborhood like the neighborhood barber, for example, according to the development team.
The project would be named in honor of longtime Logan Square LGBTQ rights and affordable housing activists John Pennycuff and Robert Castillo.
Pennycuff died in 2012, but is survived by Castillo, who attended the meeting.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who spearheaded the Lakeview project, also attended the meeting at the request of Moreno.
"I can tell you that my experience has been nothing but awesome," Tunney told neighbors at the meeting. "It has added a real sense of culture and community and bolstered the diversity of my neighborhood. It has had no effect in a negative way on property values."
Tunney added that the Lakeview development, which offers 78 units, has a waiting list of 400 people.
Moreno was unequivocal in his support of the project, which he said he helped come up with about two years ago.
"I think it's incredibly necessary, forward-thinking and it's the right size," Moreno said. "I don't expect 100 percent support for it. Nothing gets 100 percent support. But I didn't get into this game to be in the backseat. I want to lead."
The alderman's enthusiasm was shared by most neighbors, including Sol Flores, who has lived in the neighborhood since 2006.
"I think the development is really important," Flores said.
"I think sometimes folks misunderstand or there are myths about what it means to have 100-percent affordable housing. I think it's important to remind neighbors that these people will have leases and if they're not compliant they'll get kicked out. If you're a CHA voucher holder, you have additional restrictions put on your lease," Flores said. "They just hear CHA and say, 'That equals poor people.' It's actually not that."
Castillo said the project is a "desperately needed resource" for Logan Square's LGBTQ community. The development won't be restricted to only LGBTQ residents, but instead will be marketed to that community.
"One of the quiet secrets is there has been a thriving LGBTQ community in Logan Square," Castillo said. "I like to call Logan Square a quilt. The gay parts of the quilt are in there. They may not stand out, but you know they're there. A lot of us have quietly integrated into the neighborhood. I think it's one of the beauties of Logan Square and at times a drawback."
Castillo also pointed to the declining affordable housing stock in Logan Square.
"It is also needed because the reality of Logan Square is the rents have risen and a lot of longtime neighbors have left."
At the end of the meeting, the room erupted in applause when Moreno asked neighbors to clap if they supported the project.
However, the Greater Goethe Neighborhood Association's zoning and planning committee does not support the building's size and exterior elevations, among other features.
Another concern brought up at the meeting was the lack of units geared toward families.
"What we need is more family affordable housing, especially with Lathrop Homes being redeveloped," Schmidt said.
Community partners in the development include the Metropolitan Housing Development Corp., La Casa Norte, Latin United Community Housing Association, and the Puerto Rican Cultural Center.
If approved, the project would break ground next summer, according to Moreno.