The affordable housing development project for 801 S. Oak Park Ave., which the Oak Park village board approved in October 2018, is finally moving forward.
“Construction started this week,” confirmed Kirk Albinson, a project manager with Community Builders, the non-profit real estate development company spearheading the project.
Progress was stymied by a lawsuit filed by neighbors against the village in December 2018. The neighbors argued that the development violated zoning codes. Judge Celia G. Gamrath dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice October 27, 2019.
“What this means is that it cannot be refiled, and the case was over as of that date,” said Village Attorney Paul Stephanides.
Albinson expects construction of the 37-unit apartment complex to wrap up in March 2021 and be ready for occupancy in early April of that year.
The company is also trying to implement a preference for renting to people already in Oak Park.
“We understand that there’s a desire from the village to have a preference, so we are still working to see if a preference could be allowed for folks who work or live in Oak Park,” said Will Woodley, Community Builders director of development.
To secure that preference, Community Builders has to go through the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“That’s something we are doing and should know in the next handful of months,” said Woodley. “With that said, with the location of the project and just all of the work force on Lake Street, on Oak Park [Avenue], on Madison [Street], we will be, regardless of a preference, marketing to the folks working along those corridors in Oak Park and other major employers in Oak Park.”
Community Builders received $500,000 from the village’s affordable housing fund for the project. Tenant rent costs range, with the average expected to be somewhat under $900. A number of units will be reserved for people with disabilities. Rents on those will be lower.
“It’s an income restriction, similar to rent control, but those will be set at about $431 per month, based on where things are currently,” said Albinson. “We expect those numbers to go up as we get closer to having the building ready for occupancy. That’s going to cover about nine units.”
The units are targeting people who work full time and make roughly $18 to $21 dollars an hour or around $37,400 a year to $42,800 a year.
Two live-work units flank the building, with one on Van Buren Street and the other on South Oak Park Avenue.
“The back of those units will have a one-bedroom dwelling unit, but the front of the apartment will have space that someone can use for a business or retail operation,” said Albinson.
Both live-work units have direct entry from the sidewalk.
There is also a retail space of about a thousand square feet. Community Builders is working with Oak Park real estate broker Theresa Jurgus, of Baird & Warner, to let that space.
“She’s going to be actively engaging and looking for businesses to help complement the other businesses on the block,” said Albinson. “Something that would be a draw for the community and strengthen that whole retail block.”
Boston-based Community Builders has been working in the Chicago metropolitan area for almost 20 years.
“We truly focus on developments that not only help ensure long-term affordability in the community, but also strengthen the community,” said Woodley. “I used to live in Oak Park, so I know it well. It’s absolutely the kind of community that we want to be working in and we were really encouraged by the leadership of the village.”
Woodley also believes that the apartment building is an opportunity to address the issue of residents getting priced out of the area and add value to the Oak Park community.
“We’re replacing a site that has long been vacant. This is a really important block in the village,” he said. “We’re confident that what we’re delivering is going to not only ensure affordability when it’s really needed in the village but strengthen this block and strengthen the community.”