By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
It will be next to the Green Line and when the Obama Presidential Library opens, a trip on the route 53 bus will take one straight there.
The dream of quality, urban living for low-income apartment seekers in Woodlawn drew closer to reality on Wednesday, April 18. Community leaders held a groundbreaking ceremony for the $29.4 million Woodlawn Station across from the historic Daley’s restaurant on 63rd street near Cottage Grove. When completed, the ultra-modern building will be the first transit oriented development that will sit next to the Green Line station.
The mixed-use, mixed income development will include three buildings that will have a total of 70 units, of which 35 will be rented to former residents of Grove Park, a large Woodlawn development that was demolished in 2013. About 15 units will be rented to moderate to middle-income residents, said Aaron Gornstein, President and CEO of Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH), the developer of Woodlawn Station.
The development will have 1, 2 and 3 bedroom units. In addition, Woodlawn Station will also have a play garden for children, an events room and a rooftop amenities deck.
The development will have 15,000 square feet of ground floor retail and commercial space. Prominent businesswoman Margo Strotter has signed on as the first commercial tenant. She will open her third Ain’t She Sweet Café after opening similar eateries in Bronzeville and Beverly. She catered the lunch at Wednesday’s groundbreaking ceremony.
The $29.3 million Woodlawn Station project included funding of $7.6 million from HUD’s Choice Neighborhood Initiative Grant Funds. The City of Chicago granted POAH a $5 million multi-family loan. The remaining sources came from private loans from BMO Harris Bank and JP Morgan. POAH executives estimate the project will be a $400 million investment in Woodlawn. They expect to complete the Woodlawn Station in mid-2018.
POAH is a nonprofit organization that has built 500 units in mixed-income buildings in Woodlawn. At Wednesday’s press conference, Gornstein said POAH aims to reach a goal of building 1,100 units in the area. Gornstein said Woodlawn Station will be POAH’s fifth affordable housing development in the neighborhood. For now, leaders are basking in pride as POAH moves closer to its goal.
“This is an important milestone in Woodlawn,” Gornstein said. “We couldn’t be more excited to continue helping build a stronger, healthier Woodlawn.”
Andrea Zopp, the first deputy mayor of Chicago spoke on behalf of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was scheduled to speak but did not attend the groundbreaking ceremony.
“This Woodlawn Station is about what we can do when we come together,” she said.
Senator Dick Durbin, a staunch advocate for affordable housing, also attended the groundbreaking, which included civic and community leaders shoveling the ceremonial dirt.
“Programs designed to help revitalize struggling communities are smart investments that yield great benefits for neighbor, neighborhood and nation alike. They should receive more federal investment, not less.”
Alderman Willie Cochran (20th Ward) said the groundbreaking of the Woodlawn station was another achievement in his ward.
“This is a proud day for me as I reflect on 40 years of community engagement,” he said.
The development is also a major boost for affordable housing in Woodlawn and on the South Side, where a critical shortage of quality apartments for low-income renters continues to be a concern for housing advocates. Although affordable housing is the new alternative to public housing, city and housing leaders have been criticized for not doing enough to address the critical shortage of affordable housing on the South Side.
But with many of its units rented below market rate, the Woodlawn Station will help address not just one, but two critical needs on the South Side, housing and access to public transportation.