On Oct. 14, the Council approved a package of zoning changes that will allow Austin’s Chicago Jesuit Academy Catholic elementary school, 5058 W. Jackson Blvd., to build a new school for girls. And on Oct. 25, the Council approved the sale of 100 city-owned lots scattered throughout the section of North Lawndale roughly bounded by Roosevelt Road, Christiana Avenue, Cermak Road and Albany Avenue. 

The Lawndale Christian Development Corporation (LCDC), 3843 W. Ogden Ave., and the Pullman-based Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives will be using those lots to build 100 single-family homes, some of which will be affordable to North Lawndale residents, the developers said. 

The project is part of a larger effort to build 250 homes in North Lawndale. Ald. Michael Scott (24th), whose ward includes most of North Lawndale west of California Avenue, has been pushing developers to build 1,000 homes on vacant, city-owned lots in order to reverse decades of population declines by attracting new residents and providing more housing options for existing residents in order to encourage them to stay.

LCDC and Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives bought the lots through the City Lots for Working Families (CL4WF) program for a symbolic price of $1 per lot. They will use a $21 million loan from the United Power for Action and Justice’s Reclaiming Communities Fund, as well as $3 million in state subsidies, to build the homes, and sell them for $250,000.

CL4WF requires all homes built on the property to be affordable to residents earning at least 120 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) for the Chicago region, which is currently between $85,560 and $99,820. 

But according to the American Community Survey, 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.

During the June 8 meeting of the Chicago Community Development Commission, Richard Townsell, LCDC’s executive director, said that they would use a variety of subsidies in order to make the homes affordable to North Lawndale residents earning average incomes for the community. Townsell, however, added that developers would also be looking at a wide range of incomes.

““We, think on the bottom end, [we will have homebuyers with] combined family income of about $50,000, and then on the top end, we’re trying to find people who don’t need any subsidy,” he said at the time.

During the Oct. 25 City Council meeting, Scott reiterated his earlier comments about his effort to reverse population loss in North Lawndale, describing the land sale as a “down payment” on the goal of building 1,000 homes.

“This is the first substantive development in North Lawndale in quite some time,” he added. “It is a signature piece.” 

Jesuit Academy expansion 

The Chicago Academy, which opened in 2007, currently only accepts boys in third through eighth grades. According to Academy officials, Jesuit schools are traditionally either all-boy or all-girl, and they decided to make this school all-boys after getting community feedback about the need for an all-boys institution on the West Side. Since then, parents, alumni and community residents have been asking the school for a similar school for girls. 

The academy shares the former St. Martin de Porres Parish elementary school property with Christ the King Jesuit College Prep High School. The Academy took over the L-shaped former school building on the northeast side of the lot and Christ the King built a brand new, similarly L-shaped school on the southwest side of the lot. The new girls’ school will be built on what is now a parking lot on the north side of the property, between the two buildings. 

The project is expected to cost around $25 million, which the school raised through a fundraising campaign. 

The plans required changes to the site’s existing zoning, which had to be approved by the Chicago Plan Commission before going to the City Council. During the commission’s Sept. 16 meeting, Commissioner Laura Flores wondered about the blank white panels on the Quincy Street facing side of the building. Project architect Jody Buell said that the idea was to echo the white material on the first floor of the original St. Martin de Poress building. Flores suggested the school paint murals on all of the blank panels. 

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), whose ward includes the campus and most of the surrounding portion of Austin, said that he supports the project because it would add to the community fabric. 

“It has a benefit to the Austin community by allowing young women, young girls to participate at Chicago Jesuit in an environment where they’re producing good young people,” he said.

Ervin added that painting more murals is “a great idea, so it doesn’t look so sterile on the ground level.”

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...