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Woodlawn Station Groundbreaking Highlights The Need For HUD Grants

The skies were overcast and threatened rain on a blocklong stretch of 63rd Street in Woodlawn yesterday. But the collective smiles on the faces of dignitaries and guests at the groundbreaking of Woodlawn Station could have parted the clouds and forced the sun to shine.

Woodlawn Station, at 63rd Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, is the latest development by the Preservation of Affordable Housing in the neighborhood that started with the 2008 acquisition of the former Chicago Housing Authority Grove Parc apartments. POAH's development activity was kick-started in 2012, when it was awarded a $30.5M HUD Choice Neighborhood Grant to build affordable housing in Woodlawn — a grant that is on the chopping block under President Donald Trump's proposed budget

Preservation of Affordable Housing president and CEO Aaron Gornstein, POAH Chicago region vice president Bill Eager and Ald. Willie Cochran (20th).

POAH Chicago region vice president Bill Eager estimates the grant has resulted in $400M in public and private investments in housing, retail and much-needed public infrastructure improvements in Woodlawn. POAH promised that it would build, acquire and renovate apartments for former Grove Parc residents to replace the ones lost when it demolished the complex.

When Woodlawn Station comes online next year, POAH will have built or rehabbed 572 apartments in Woodlawn, the majority of which are affordable units funded through the choice neighborhood grant.

In addition, the grant helped establish the Renew Woodlawn homeownership program last year. The nonprofit partnered with the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, Community Investment Corp. and Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago to provide incentives including down payments for prospective homebuyers seeking to call Woodlawn home.

Eager said POAH's activity in Woodlawn and its commitment to the former Grove Parc residents has resulted in the neighborhood seeing population growth for the first time in years. In 2015 Woodlawn's population stood at 26,446 residents, a 13% increase from 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 

Woodlawn's location south of the University of Chicago, adjacent to the site of the Obama Presidential Library in Jackson Park, has also led to increased interest from developers and businesses in the area.

A rendering by Nia Architects for Woodlawn Station at Cottage Grove Avenue and 63rd Street in Woodlawn.

Woodlawn Station is the final development being funded with the choice neighborhood grant, which is set to expire in October. In addition to the remaining $7.6M from the grant, the $30M project is being funded with a $5M multifamily loan from the city, a $3.1M permanent loan from BMO Harris Bank and $12.4M in low income housing tax credits.

The core of Woodlawn Station's development will include 55 apartments. Thirty-five units have been allocated to returning Grove Parc residents, the remainder will be leased at market-rate rents. POAH is also building an additional 15 units at 6408 and 6432 Maryland, in compliance with Chicago's Affordable Requirements Ordinance.

Woodlawn Station will also include 15K SF of ground-level retail and Eager said that POAH and Matanky Real Services, which is handling the retail leasing, are in talks with local businesses to set up shop in the neighborhood.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois)

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin was on hand at the groundbreaking and championed the choice neighborhood grant program, which is one of the programs being axed under Trump's budget proposal. 

Durbin promised to fight for the program and others that spur affordable housing development when Congress convenes to discuss what parts of Trump's budget will survive. To date, there are 31 affordable housing units for every 100 people who need them across the country; within the city those numbers increase to 50 units per 100 people, the senator said. 

Woodlawn Station will be Ain't She Sweet Cafe owner Margo Strotter's third location when it opens at Woodlawn Station next year.

POAH's commitment to luring local entrepreneurs to Woodlawn Station was on display at the groundbreaking. Margo Stotter, owner of Ain't She Sweet Cafe, announced that she would be opening a third location at Woodlawn Station, occupying 1,600 SF when it opens next year.

Strotter's family opened its first café in Bronzeville and expanded to the Far South Side Beverly neighborhood last year. Strotter said that POAH provides catering services for the group's meetings, which was the foundation for a sound working relationship, and that the changes that are happening in Woodlawn are something that she wants to be a part of.