By Jamie Rubenstein
Ten years on the drawing boards and a history-making advance in LGBT housing, ground was broken in Chicago earlier this month for the first LGBT-friendly affordable senior housing facility in the Midwest.
The $26 million, 79-unit venture, financed as a co-op partnership by a non-profit firm, the City of Chicago and the Center on Halsted, the city’s lead support LGBT facility, is being hailed as an example of new-found co-operation among LGBT and civic leaders to solve housing needs for low income seniors.
The Town Hall Apartment complex, as it is being known and being constructed as a rehab of a former city police station which decades ago housed LGBT activists in grim cell blocks, in part, follows the California model of the Triangle Square Complex in West Hollywood, opened in 2007 as a pioneering low income facility for seniors.
Chicago officials, preparing for the May 2 ground breaking ceremonies at the Town Hall site in the Halsted Street district, emphasize the facility slated to be ready by August 2014, will be open to non-LGBT residents in accordance with fair housing regulations.
Still, leaders of the LGBT community, which for months have been eagerly awaiting the Town Hall start-up with residents in turn readying applications, expressed gratitude the complex is at last getting off the ground.
It is being constructed adjacent to the Center On Halsted which itself intends to relocate some of its support functions into the building. That would include senior programming, a fitness center, a movie room, arts and crafts, among other services.
“I love the fact,” explained Modesto “Tico” Valle, CEO of the Center on Halsted, that the Town Hall facility would in essence “honor seniors who paved the way for our rights today.”
He told “Chicago Magazine” this month that some of the LGBT seniors “who probably were arrested and detained” in the former police station “for activism around equality or the AIDS epidemic or funding for people living with HIV” would be living there.
Chicago’s most visible LGBT leader, Ald. Tom Tunney, who represents the Halsted District and has long been in the forefront of senior housing advocacy, also called the Town Hall development a watershed moment in LGBT advances.
Recalling the earlier struggles to win Chicago City Council passage of enabling legislation, providing for land transfer and, use of housing tax credits in the Chicago Housing Authority for funding, Tunney told 429Magazine Town Hall when finally opened “is an excellent example of how the city, local residents and non-profit groups can work together to create something special.”
Hume An, director of real estate development for the non-profit Heartland Housing Inc. of Chicago who along with Tunney has been in the forefront of launching Town Hall, called recent progress in moving the project forward to the May groundbreaking a testimony to LGBT advances across the country.
“This is really a fantastic opportunity for the LGBT community,” said An whose Heartland along with the Center have formed a partnership to manage the complex as the application process gets fully underway early next year.
The six-story building will contain 30 studios and 49 one-bedroom intended as affordable rentals. Applicants, said officials, must fit within specific income guidelines and pay no more than 30% of their income to rent. Applicants also do not have identify as LGBT, said An stressing the building is intended “to welcome all moderate income seniors.”
The original facility built in 1907 was named after the Lake View Township Town Hall later annexed into the city. The police station itself was vacated by the Chicago Police Department in 2010 for a new modern complex next door and now around the block from the Center on Halsted.
An said the proposed new Chicago complex is being erected as comparable LGBT-tied ventures are under way in Philadelphia as well as San Francisco.
“There is simply growing acceptance for this kind of housing across the country,” said An who visited the Triangle Square complex in W. Hollywood last year to draw ideas.
An, whose firm has been involved in affordable housing projects in the city, said he and Tunney had worked on a similar venture 10 years ago but “we simply could not get the right kind of funding package off the ground but I’m glad we’re able to do it this time putting together a beautiful, well-designed project.”
An told Chicago Magazine that many LGBTQ senior citizens continue to “face discrimination from other residents and from management, and a lot of social isolation.”
“Because the present generation of seniors isn’t likely to have children or grandchildren to care for them, it’s important for them to be in a community that is welcoming to them and provides the support they need,” he said.
Under the architect’s design for the structure, the brick and limestone exterior of the old police station will be preserved but inside there is “little to save,” except for some tin ceilings and glossy glazed bricks, said Valle of the Center on Halsted..
As for those old jail cells, they will be removed to make room for social spaces for the senior residents and hopefully donated to a museum, Valle concluded.