New Structured Development/MBE Partnership Aims To Improve East Garfield Park Without Gentrifying
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has put pressure on private developers to both expand the city’s affordable housing supply and build the capacity of minority-owned businesses. Chicago-based Structured Development decided to do both at once with its new Harrison Park Townhomes development in the West Side neighborhood of East Garfield Park.
The area was hit hard by decades of disinvestment, but the once-vacant site on the 2800 block of Congress Parkway, just south of the Eisenhower Expressway, now has seven new affordable homes, and Structured plans to construct at least 26 others. But instead of just hiring local residents to help construct the remaining townhomes, it brought a pair of local contractors aboard as full partners on a portion of the second phase.
Kevin Brinson and Quentin Addison have been laboring for years in East Garfield Park and other neighborhoods, demolishing and rehabbing units. Now incorporated as Fain’s Development LLC, the duo hopes partnering with a company of Structured’s scale will help build relationships with lenders, other contractors, municipal officials and others, increasing their capacity to do such projects on their own. Both say pricey homes are starting to pop up on the outer fringes of East Garfield Park, which sits just west of the burgeoning Illinois Medical District, and community-focused developers will be needed to ensure development in the area is responsible.
When complete, the new for-sale homes will help fulfill Structured’s obligation under the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance to create affordable housing in exchange for securing approval to build The Shops at Big Deahl, its new mixed-use complex in Lincoln Park. That site, which will include a 27-story tower with 327 units, is within the city’s Near North/Near West ARO Pilot area, which requires developers to set aside 20% of the units as affordable, with half built on-site. The remainder can be anywhere within the pilot zone.
Structured will build a small tower with 34 affordable units at the Deahl site, as well as the 33 in East Garfield Park. The Chicago Community Land Trust, a nonprofit corporation administered by the Chicago Department of Housing, will find qualified buyers and preserve the homes’ long-term affordability for at least 30 years.
The first seven homes were unveiled Thursday at a neighborhood event with 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett. Bisnow spoke to Structured Development’s founding principal Michael Drew and Fain’s Development principals Kevin Brinson and Quentin Addison about their project and the impact it may have on East Garfield Park.
Bisnow: What led Structured Development to launch a residential project in East Garfield Park?
Drew: The Shops at Big Deahl was located in the pilot zone, which required a certain level of affordable units to be built as part of any new residential development. And half of the units can be built on-site, but the other half could be built anywhere within the pilot zone. So, we went and looked for locations and found an East Garfield Park site that had been vacant for well over 50 years. We bought it in December of 2019, came up with the design, and we've just completed the first phase of seven houses, with three contracts already signed.
Bisnow: How did Fain’s Development end up working on a project like this?
Brinson: We have previous experience acquiring structures and then doing demolition and remodeling. And we just wanted to do something with a little bit more scale. We were introduced to Michael through Alderman Burnett, and it just so happens that this project was in the area where we grew up. We met, had some discussions, and at the end of the discussions they came back and said, “Let's do this.”
Bisnow: What were typical jobs for your business before you got involved with Structured Development?
Addison: We've been doing real estate for about 15 years. We did an eight-unit condo conversion on the east side of Woodlawn. And also, in Back of the Yards, we acquired land, and we are getting ready to build single families there.
Bisnow: Why form a partnership with a neighborhood business like Fain’s?
Drew: When a White majority developer comes in and is looking to invest or build in a neighborhood, they'll often make efforts to hire local workers and subcontractors. But at the end of that job, that developer is gone, and the benefit to the community and the workers often leaves with the developer. So, when Kevin suggested a mentorship and a joint venture, we embraced it. It’s our hope that with what we're able to share with Fain, in terms of the development process, they will then be able to repeat again and again in the future, whether on their own, doing future joint ventures with us or other developers.
What are the barriers for East Garfield Park residents who run businesses and want to grow?
Brinson: The main barrier is access to capital. We’ve now been introduced to the big players at the table, and being able to put a project of this magnitude on our resume allows us to access the capital we’ll need for future projects. It's been an amazing journey thus far because we're learning the ins and outs on how to do a full development. It's a great idea to bring people in, but it's a better idea for us to be a part of the process from beginning to end because it gives us experience, and experience means everything. If we don't have that, how do we get to the next level? This is the first step.
Bisnow: What have been some of the benefits to having Fain’s as a partner?
Drew: In the first phase, the townhouse units were about 1,220 SF on three floors, but [the second-phase homes] are 1,460 SF on two floors. So, the living space is much more conducive to family living. That’s something we modified from the first phase with Kevin's input in terms of what he thought might sell better. Having grown up in the neighborhood, they also know a lot of people, and they've referred one excellent landscaper that we've hired to do all the snow removal and maintain the landscaped areas. So that local neighborhood knowledge helps us a lot.
Bisnow: Why was it important to have family-sized units?
Brinson: This is something people may live in for 30-plus years, and families are going to grow. Back in the day, homes were not built with that in mind. I have a single-family home, and the size of the bedrooms were horrible. I did a remodel, and had to knock out the wall where two bedrooms existed and make it a one-bedroom. I'm a pretty big and tall fella, so you know I don't want to live like Paul Bunyan in a little-bitty shack.
Drew: Unfortunately, like a lot of neighborhoods, East Garfield Park has not had a lot of investment until just recently. It's been overlooked. There is quite a bit more investment occurring within the area now, but what has been missing is new family-size housing, three-bedroom houses. There are very few of those in East Garfield Park.
And the city discovered in their review of the ARO ordinance that what was being delivered was small, mostly studios and one-bedroom units. The affordable units were usually part of high-rise, market-rate towers, and there were no ways to deliver family housing in a high-rise that had nothing larger than a two-bedroom unit.
Bisnow: Are there other ways this project will help East Garfield Park?
Brinson: I've been here since 1968. There were a lot of working-class families in the neighborhood, a lot of homeowners, but it had been left destitute for 40 or 50 years. Now, a lot of gentrification is taking place. And while this does revitalize the area, right down the street we’ve got properties being built that are worth over $500K or $600K. We don't want all of the people that grew up in that neighborhood to have to migrate someplace else, because that's just not feasible for a lot of people.
Drew: These units are being sold through the Chicago Community Land Trust. So, it's a good opportunity for first-time homeowners. They're able to get a 3% down mortgage, and the historically low mortgage rates make the payments very affordable. Most importantly, these homes are priced $209K to $235K, but their appraised value is north of $260K to $270K. So, when these buyers close, they have immediate equity. And the CCLT program maintains the affordability for the next buyers as well. It's a way for the city to encourage investment in the community but also limit gentrification and displacement. This is workforce housing that will anchor the community well into the future. Homeownership, the pride of homeownership, also provides stability.
Bisnow: Any final thoughts?
Brinson: There's a certain nostalgia that comes from going through the neighborhood’s good times and the bad times, and it feels good to be part of its revitalization.