Web Extra! See renderings and a site plan for the project

A North Lawndale development group is picking up where Dr. Martin Luther King left off when he came to Chicago in 1966. King and his family moved into a tenement apartment at 1550 S. Hamlin on the city’s West Side to protest the lack of affordable and decent housing for poor urban blacks during the civil rights era.

Some 40 years later, the West Side still grapples with the lack affordable housing. But the Lawndale Christian Development Center aims to change that. The center plans to develop the site where Dr. King stayed during the summer of ’66 into affordable rental housing. But the project does not mean a completion of his dream for affordable housing.

“His dream was that every person should be able to live in decent housing,” said Benjamin Kendrick, of the Marcy-Newberry Association, a member of the MLK Taskforce, which spearheaded the project.

“By no stretch is this a fulfillment of his dream, but this certainly becomes our attempt at doing our part to see to it that the dream and struggle continue,” added Kendrick, executive director of the association, a 125-year-old community social services agency.

Called the MLK Apartments, the 45-unit mixed-use development will have commercial/retail space on the ground floor with two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments on the upper levels. The development will include green space, rear parking, a community room and Internet access. Lawndale Christian plans to break ground on the project this September.

Marisa Novaro, Lawndale Christian’s senior project manager, said community groups have been advocating for years to redevelop the site as a memorial to Dr. King. Doing affordable housing, she added, is a befitting tribute to his effort to improve living conditions for West Side residents.

“We felt that this would be a great monument to his work,” Novaro said. “We worked really hard to make sure that there is a great deal of affordability in the units.”

Rents for the low-income apartments are based on up to 60 percent of the area median income and could be as low as $222 for a two-bedroom apartment. Additionally, 10 units will be set aside for those who qualify for project-based Section 8 subsidies.

Tax credits from both the state and the city will help keep rents low, Novaro said. The $17 million project has received $1.5 million in tax credits from the city. The Illinois Housing Development Authority has invested more than $1.3 million in state and federal tax credits for the MLK Apartments.

The project goes beyond creating affordable housing to honor King. The task force wants to turn the vacant block-long site between Hamlin and Avers into a historic district. It also envisions streetscaping to identify a portion of 16th Street as a King historic district. And they want to create a performing arts center, a pictorial exhibit of King’s work in Chicago, a campus-like park for Penn Elementary School and a new library.

“This is the only place where he stayed in the north, and there should be something there to commemorate his work here,” said Rev. Randall Harris, president of the Westside Federation, a MLK task force member.

The cultural district could be an anchor for the redevelopment of 16th Street and attract other investments like restaurants. Harris noted that the district could even benefit from the Olympics if Chicago is chosen to host the games. The task force hopes to have the historic district developed within five years.

“By the time the Olympics come, it would be on the list of one of the places to come and see,” Harris said.

Web Extra!

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