Amidst the ongoing controversy over Logan’s upscale transit-oriented development boom and its impact on local housing prices, the push to convert a city-owned parking lot next to the Logan Square station into a 100-percent-affordable TOD is picking up steam. Local neighborhoods groups are gathering signatures on petitions about the plan and 35th Ward alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa has been a vocal supporter of the plan and other affordable housing efforts in his district.
The planning process for the parking lot, located just north of the Blue Line stop along Emmett Street, and the simple plaza directly west of the station, have been underway for at least three years. In September 2014, the Metropolitan Planning Council and then-aldermen Rey Colón hosted community meetings to gather ideas for the future of these spaces. An earlier study by the CTA and the city’s departments of Planning, Development, Transportation, and Revenue had determined that the parking lot and plaza were underutilized.
Three two-hour input sessions took place at Logan Square’s Hairpin Arts Center, drawing huge crowds. In addition to these meetings, MPC distributed flyers around the neighborhood encouraging residents to provide feedback via an online poll. According to the MPC’s final report, 150 people attended the first meeting and attendance grew to more than 200 by the third meeting.
Some priorities for the sites identified at the meetings were green space, an indoor farmer’s market, and community space. The majority of workshop participants were in favor of building affordable housing on the site, with 63% of workshop proposals including an affordable housing component. Workshop participants and online respondents specifically indicated a desire for housing at the Emmett Street lot and an expressed interest in making 50-100 percent of the units affordable. Based on this input, MPC recommended that at least 50 percent of the units be affordable.
Prior to being elected aldermen, Alderman Carlos Rosa attended the MPC meetings as an Avondale resident and 35th Ward constituent. “There was consensus [at the meetings] that it was an opportunity to bring more affordable housing,” he says. As a candidate, he promised to push for affordable housing with family-sized units on the parking lot site. The MPC meetings and surveys identified community members’ top priorities for the site and he says he will ultimately pick the development proposal that is both in line with those priorities and economically viable.
Logan Square resident Kimmy Noonen, 33, attended two of the MPC’s input sessions. “The calls for affordable housing are definitely not unanimous in Logan Square, but residents came out to these meetings to make sure it was advocated for,” she says.
While the meeting showed potential, Noonen says so far the planning process has borne few results, and “nothing has happened” in terms of creating a 100-percent-affordable housing complex. “When we think about how many people need housing, [the process] seems to have gone very slowly.”
After Ramirez-Rosa defeated Colón in early 2015, the administration change delayed the planning process for the development, according to Arturo Hernandez, co-chair of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association’s housing and land use committee. But Hernandez, 33, is optimistic that “substantial affordable housing” will eventually come to fruition on the Emmett Street site.
“I think there’s a good possibility of plans actually happening because of new leadership,” says Hernandez. “[Ramirez-Rosa’s] leadership makes it likely that it will happen.”
LSNA has partnered with United Neighbors of the 35th Ward, an independent political organization, to collect petition signatures in support of the 100-percent-affordable plan amidst other proposals for the parking lot. For example, architect and local resident Josh Hutchison is pitching a proposal for a vendor market with a roof that could be closed during the winter and opened during the summer. Hutchinson told Curbed Chicago he believes the public parking lot should be converted to another amenity that is open to the public, rather than housing that is only available for use by residents.
The pro-affordable housing petition drive launched in December with UN35 organizing the canvasses and LSNA mobilizing its large member base, with canvassing focusing on Logan Square and Avondale in the 35th ward. “Our reach goal for petition signatures is at least 2,000,” says Maeve Raphelson, a member of UN35 and co-chair of the group’s 100-percent-affordable development campaign. “If we get this, it will show that there is a great need for [the development] and that the community supports it. There is so much being developed with minimum affordability standards that this can maybe inspire future developments.”
Ramirez-Rosa says he remains resolute in supporting 100-percent-affordable housing on-site. “One of the reasons I ran for alderman in the 35th Ward is because of the 10,000 Latinos that had been pushed out [between 2000 and 2009] from Logan Square because of rising rents,” he says. “Having grown up on northwest side, I have seen displacement and it’s not healthy. Healthy communities are economically diverse.”
Knocking on doors during his election campaign also helped him further appreciate how working people can benefit from access to transit-oriented development. Ramirez-Rosa says he met a woman in Hermosa who was upset about the limited evening schedule of the Armitage bus. This meant getting home late from work and even having to sometimes walk long distances. “It speaks to the importance of affordable housing near transit,” he said. “The Logan Square Blue Line gives working people access to jobs.”
While not much seemed to be happening with the affordable TOD proposal over the past few years, Rosa says that after taking office he got to work talking with government officials, the Chicago Housing Authority, and affordable housing developers about the need for affordable housing by the Logan stop. Though government support will be necessary to make the project a reality, he said there are challenges. “We know that the [Emanuel] administration supports gentrification and that CHA has not lived up to its promise,” he argued.
Given this context, Ramirez-Rosa says that the petition drive happening in his ward is of vital importance, “I think it’s important that it’s not just me [advocating for the affordable TOD project] but a greater number of people.” He said he sees the Emmett Street lot development as sending an important message: “We need to ensure working residents have access to transit.”