Daniel Levin Talks Habitat Co's 45-Year Commitment To Housing
Affordable housing is on the minds of developers struggling with last year's changes to the Affordable Requirements Ordinance. Habitat Co founder Daniel Levin, one of Chicago's leading affordable housing developers, says that's much ado about nothing. Over the past 45 years, his firm has built up a $3B empire heavily saturated with affordable units.
Daniel says changes to the Affordable Requirements Ordinance aren’t so severe that it makes building affordable housing impossible. He's completely comfortable that affordable housing can be integrated into market-rate developments seamlessly, as long as operators focus on good management of their properties. Habitat’s portfolio is staggering: it manages over 25,000 units totaling $3B across five states and boasts over 900 employees.
Daniel says Habitat's growth isn’t something he envisioned when he built the 28-acre South Commons in 1971. He simply wanted to be in the housing business, do good work and be sensitive to the need for housing at the market rate and affordable levels. South Commons had set-asides for elderly and affordable housing, Daniel managed to find the funds to finance a school and shopping for the project, and South Commons created a diverse community including African-American, Hispanic and Asian residents.
Habitat’s philosophy was put to the test when Daniel was appointed receiver for Chicago Housing Authority in 1987, after CHA was found to have violated court orders to comply with a 1981 consent decree in the Dorothy Gautreaux housing discrimination case. Habitat built or oversaw the development of 4,000 units of public housing as part of CHA’s Plan for Transformation before being relieved of receivership duties in 2010. Daniel says CHA wasn’t happy, initially, but Habitat developed goodwill with the organization over time, remained patient and focused on the job at hand. The lessons learned from that have been applied to public housing projects in Detroit, St. Louis and Atlanta.
Another major Habitat milestone was the development of Presidential Towers in the now-hot West Loop. Daniel says he was approached by Mayor Jane Byrne’s administration about building the project in what was then skid row. Daniel says he wanted to create enough scale for a sense of community. Habitat eventually delivered four buildings with a common entrance and a bridge across two streets to connect them. Presidential Towers was ahead of its time: a city-within-a-city that provided its residents with immediate shopping needs without having to head outside. Daniel adds that Presidential Towers was intended to spur development west of the site, which is happening at a brisk pace today, but wouldn’t have happened as quickly if not for Presidential Towers.
Daniel is also proud of Habitat’s involvement in building the East Bank Club. He says he always believed affordable housing could be built in the area immediately south of the club, but funding was unavailable at the time. Daniel says he was proven right on that eventually, thanks to the scale with which Habitat and McHugh Construction built EBC. Today the club has over 11,000 members, but Daniel says you don’t need to be affluent to join.