Both of the finalists vying for a chance to redevelop the West Humboldt Park property at 3601-25 W. Chicago Ave., as part of the city’s Invest South/West initiative, are led by Black-owned firms and organizations with West Side connections. 

The two development teams that are finalists — Ascent West Humboldt and The Ave — shared their proposals during a virtual meeting on Sept. 23, where attendees had a chance to ask questions and share their concerns.

The Ascent West Humboldt development team is proposing a seven-story building with 37 condos, retail on the first two floors, on-site co-working spaces and a maker studio.  

Five out of the six companies and organizations that are part of the planning side of the Ascent West Humboldt team are headed by African-Americans. VS Creative Consulting is run by Austin artist and community activist Vanessa Stokes while the Root2Fruit youth mentoring, founded by West Side activist Aisha Oliver, is based in Austin.   

Two out of the three lead developers on the Ave team are Black-owned and one of those developers, Humboldt Park-based KMW Communities, is owned by West Humboldt Park native Bill Williams. 

The Ave development team is proposing a four- to five-story building with 40 apartments, first-floor retail, a daycare center, a rooftop community garden and a gym. Unlike the Ascent proposal, the Ave proposal is part of a larger plan that includes another mixed-use building at 3401 W. Chicago and homes built on vacant lots between the two buildings.

As part of the Invest South/West initiative, the city invited developers to submit proposals for several sites along major South and West Side corridors. While most of them are on city-owned lots, the property at the southwest corner of Chicago and Central Park avenues is privately owned. 

A rendering of The Ave’s Invest South/West proposal. | Provided

The city is looking for a mixed-income building with retail components, community amenities and a new space for Neighborhood Housing Services’ West Side office, which is currently located at 3601 W. Chicago Ave.

The Ascent team said that at least 12 condo units will be affordable for residents earning 50 percent of the area median income (AMI). The developers said that they wanted to make the residential units condos to avert displacement.

“We wanted to create a stake in the community so people could create ownership,” Stokes said. 

The team estimated that the project would create 178 construction jobs and between 90 and 110 permanent jobs, mostly through the retail components. 

Rachel Vaas, founder of development team member company Sygyzy Cities, said that every retail tenant would have “an element of education or incubation” to support local businesses. 

The Ave proposal would also feature a mix of one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom units. Unlike the Ascent proposal, all units would be affordable, with six units affordable to tenants earning 30 percent AMI and the rest affordable for tenants earning between 60 and 80 percent AMI.

In both proposals, the AMI is based on the average income of the entire Chicagoland area rather than Humboldt Park specifically. 

The AMI is adjusted every year and the current 50 percent AMI ranges between $32,600 for a one-person household and $61,550 for an eight-person household. 

According to the most recent American Community Survey estimates, 32 percent of Humboldt Park households have incomes of less than $25,000, while 29 percent have the income of between $25,000 and $49,999 and 15 percent earn between $50,000 and $74,999.

The infill housing the developers are planning would be 2-flats, which would give the owners the option to rent out one of the units to earn extra income. 

Williams said that, since their proposal is a more long-term project, the construction jobs would last longer as workers shift from site to site. He also said that, overall, their proposal’s goal is to increase density.

Both developers were asked about how they would attract residents to the area known for higher crime rates. 

Aisha Oliver, head of Root2Fruit, said that they plan to engage with local nonprofits and offer alternatives to gangs. 

“This goes back to knowing the lay of the land,” she said. “When we started to discuss the project, what I brought to the table [was] that we understand that we’d be in the middle of a healthy drug area.”

Williams said that he believed that the building itself would change the environment. 

“What it does is change the culture, and it’s the culture of appreciation instead of the culture of disrespect,” he said. “So it’s the culture that polices the community, and not the police.”

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...