An architectural rendering of proposed homes slated for development on the West Side. | Provided

Two West Side aldermen — Ald. Michael Scott (14th) and Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) — are working with two different developers to build single-family and two-flat homes in their wards that the city is describing as “affordable,” but that fall outside of 100 percent of the citywide Area Median Income (AMI) and are even more beyond the means of the average North Lawndale household.

Developers are proposing to make eight houses “affordable” and two houses market-rate. The affordability is determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and is based on income levels throughout the entire Chicago area rather than a specific neighborhood.

Through the City Lots for Working Families program, city officials are seeking to increase the supply of affordable homes by selling city-owned vacant lots to developers for $1 a lot. In return, the developer agrees to make at least 75 percent of the newly built homes affordable to residents earning between 120 percent and 140 percent of AMI. Homes must remain affordable for at least five years. 

According to the most recent numbers, this means individuals looking to acquire the “affordable” homes through the City Lots program must make between $74,880 and $87,360 — more than the city’s $62,400 AMI level for 1-person households. 

Two-person and 3-person households earning between 120 percent and 140 percent of the citywide AMI make between $85,560 and $99,820, and between $96,240 and $112,280, respectively. 

According to American Community Survey data, roughly 85 percent of households in North Lawndale earn incomes of less than $75,000. Roughly 74 percent of North Lawndale households make less than $50,000.

Ald. Scott was not immediately available for comment on May 14 to explain why the city is calling housing that falls well outside of average income in the city and in his ward “affordable.” 

When contacted on Friday afternoon, Brian O’Donnell, a coordinating planner with the Chicago Department of Housing, acknowledged that the houses aren’t necessarily affordable to most people living in West Side communities like North Lawndale. 

“There are a lot of developments going on in North Lawndale,” O’Donnell said. “One development isn’t going to meet every need. I don’t know what to tell you.”

In North Lawndale, GMP Development is looking to buy 10 lots near the west edge of Douglass Park, mostly on the section of Troy Street between 13th Street and Roosevelt Road. Nath Construction is looking to buy 10 lots scattered throughout West Humboldt Park and East Garfield Park. 

Scott said that GMP’s proposal is part of his broader effort to reverse population declines throughout North Lawndale. 

Burnett, whose ward includes most of the lots Nath Development is interested in buying, is looking to fill vacant lots on residential streets and shore up the supply of housing before the neighborhoods gentrify.

The proposals cleared the Chicago Community Development Commission on May 11. They will still need to clear the Chicago Plan Commission, the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate, and the full City Council. As with other deals involving city property, other developers can submit alternative proposals. If the City Council approves the sale to GMP and Nath, construction is expected to start in the fall of 2021.

During the May 11 meeting, Chicago Planning and Development Commissioner Maurice Cox said that the proposals would complement the city’s efforts to bring development to major North Lawndale and West Humboldt Park commercial corridors.

“I think there’s a clear strategy here. You build the rooftops and the amenities will come,” he said. “[Businesses] will be looking for cluster developments on residential streets. Are there new homeowners moving in? Are there homes being rehabbed? And then, you’ll see a very robust response.”

North Lawndale

The GMP Development would buy the lot at 1200 W. Troy St. lot on the west side of the street, but the remaining nine would be purchased on the east side, where only one house is currently standing. It would buy vacant lots at 1217 S. Troy St., 1225-1227 S. Troy St., 1235-1239 S. Troy St. and 1245-49 S. Troy St.  

During the May 11 meeting, O’Donnell mentioned that some homes would be two-flats and some would have garden apartments, but didn’t specify the exact breakdown. GMP officials weren’t available for an interview by deadline. 

Scott said that he has been concerned about “depopulation” of North Lawndale.

“What we’re attempting to do is to jumpstart the market on the east end of the 24th Ward and put some quality affordable housing in an area that desperately needs it,” he said.

Scott said that he wants to start with the east side of North Lawndale, because the land there “was most valuable and easiest to sell.” He is working with two other developers to build houses further west, with the goal of building 1,000 houses. 

“It would be beneficial to not only my community, but to folks who want to come back to the community,” Scott said. “Back in the early-to-mid 1990s, there were over 100,000 people that resided in the community, and that’s because of the location and the housing stock.”

The alderman praised GMP Labs, a construction apprenticeship program GMP Development runs with several West Side nonprofits geared toward Black youth, saying that it takes “those young men on the street who want to drop the vices that they have and pick up a hammer.

“It’s important to know their dedication to not only the North Lawndale community, but to our Black and Brown people,” Scott said.

West Humboldt Park/East Garfield Park

Neelam Dwivedi, who runs Nath Construction with her husband, Pashupati Nath, said that they have been in business for four decades and they have been rehabbing homes in East Garfield Park since 2003, “before anybody else was there.” 

Burnett said that, while his ward didn’t have as many vacant lots as in North Lawndale, there are still gaps in the residential streets.  

“The challenge is you can’t get anyone to develop unless there’s a city program, because the market isn’t there,” he said. 

Burnett said he was familiar with Nath Construction from their work redeveloping properties that were part of the Cook County Land Bank program, and he felt that they did a “great job,” so he reached out to them. 

Nath Construction is looking to buy lots at 636 N. Trumbull Ave., 637 N. Trumbull Ave., 639 N. Trumbull Ave., 640 N. Trumbull Ave., and 643 N. Trumbull Ave., which, Dwivedi said, the company would redevelop first. The remaining five lots are at 428 N. Troy St., 600 N. Central Park Ave., 3401 W. Fulton Blvd. and 625 N. Christiana Ave. 

Dwivedi said that each house will have four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a two-car garage. If the homebuyers don’t want to use their garage, they will get credit toward the purchase price.

Burnett said that he held several community meetings on the project and the response was largely positive. 

“The community is happy about it, but concerned about their taxes going up, which is a whole other story,” he said. “But I think this will enhance the community, it’s going to attract other development to neighborhoods and it’s going to bring jobs to the community.”

Dwivedi said that company was “very open” to hiring local residents, but added that, because they’re a “small developer” that “doesn’t have much cushion,” they would aim to hire residents with experience. 

Dwivedi reflected that the process was longer and more complicated than she and her husband expected, but they were determined to see the project through.

“Once you work hard, and when you’re forging yourself in the right direction, you have nothing to do but go forward,” Dwivedi said. “We’re hard-working, positive-thinking, and we’re looking forward to making an impact.”

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...