The proposed 51-unit apartment building, with ground-floor retail space.

A Chicago developer hoping to build a controversial affordable housing complex in Oak Park cleared a large hurdle last week with approval of $12 million in tax credits.

For years, Interfaith Housing Development Corp. has been attempting to convert the long-vacant cable television facility at 820 Madison St. into affordable apartments for low-income singles.

They passed one big test in May 2011, gaining zoning approval from the Oak Park village board. After being rejected for the tax credits in the first go-round last year, Interfaith and its partner, the Oak Park Housing Authority, now have a significant chunk of the roughly $15 million it will cost to build the four-story, 51-unit building.

“This is really good news,” said Perry Vietti, chief operating officer for Interfaith. “They funded only 12 projects in the entire state of Illinois, so we’re very proud that we’re one of those 12.”

The funding comes in the form of low-income housing tax credits from the Illinois Housing Development Authority. All together, 44 projects applied to the state back in December. Only 12 made the cut.

The developers purchased the old Comcast facility in December, paying $1.6 million, according to Vietti. Back in September, they also secured about $2 million from Cook County in HOME Investment Partnership Program funds.

With that, Interfaith only needs another $1 million toward the layered “lasagna” of financing for the project. Vietti said they’re planning to apply in April for that amount from the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco.

They’ve already applied for building permits, which they hope to have in hand in the next three months or so. With that, Interfaith plans to start construction in the fall and finish in about a year.

Some neighbors have voiced concerns about the project, saying it’s too dense, has too little parking and should contain a mix of residents with different incomes. Residents who live in the building will be allowed to earn no more than $26,300 a year.

John Murtagh, one of the critics of the development, said he was “shocked” that such an expensive effort was able to receive tax credits. At the current estimate of $15 million to build, Interfaith would be paying almost $300,000 for each of the 51 apartments. Murtagh said that in a depressed housing market, the developers could buy 51 houses for that amount.

“That absolutely astonishes me that they were one of the 12 out of the 44,” Murtagh said. “I’m very, very surprised that such an expensive project got through the review by the state.”

The costs are higher than the typical affordable housing facility because the developers are rehabbing a historic building, and adding green features, such as geothermal heating, according to Ed Solan, head of the Housing Authority. He added that such tax credits don’t exist to build single-family homes, and the single site allows them to better administer social services and maintain the property.

“It is no simple thing to do a building of this sort,” he said. “The costs are high, yes, but, quite frankly, we’ll be putting a building in place that’ll be there for the next 50 to 100 years.”

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