Rogers Park apartments rented for homeless

July 8, 2008 4:26:33 PM PDT
Not too long ago, they were homeless and sold "Streetwise" newspapers to make a living.Now, one Chicago couple now has a place to call their own. It's all because of a new venture to create housing that is both affordable and accessible to the disabled.

Lydia Brown and Anthony Smith, her partner of 14 years, cut the ribbon leading to their new home Tuesday.

"Right now, I feel like I'm in somebody else's house. I don't know why. I know it's mine but it hasn't clicked yet," said Brown.

Brown is wheelchair-bound due to cerebral palsy. Smith suffered a stroke nearly three years ago. Both were homeless, making a living as "Streetwise" vendors.

"We were staying in hotels and stuff, paying for rooms. And that costs a lot, especially when you're somewhere paying $50 a day," said Smith.

The new apartment is the brainchild of former developer Marty Cerny. He proposed converting unused basement space into wheelchair-accessible apartments for low-income residents.

"People with disabilities are three times more likely to be earning less than $15,000 a year. So, by virtue of creating units for people with disabilities, we're increasing the probability that that's the marketplace that we're going to be catering to - the very, very low income," Cerny said.

Some of the modifications include an entry ramp, grab bars and wider door spaces. Twelve new accessible apartments are set to be created in the 49th Ward.

"Rogers Park has undergone a lot of redevelopment. We've lost a lot of rental housing in our community. And in order to preserve our diversity, we need to have affordable housing," said Ald. Joe Moore, 49th Ward.

Smith and Brown are expecting a baby in August. They say the timing is perfect for a fresh start.

"A long time we've been waiting on this to happen and have something of our own," Smith said.

"It's like it's unreal. I'm just looking at it, taking it all in and probably by the time night comes and I go to get in that bed, that's when it will hit me," Brown said.

Rents will be kept at 60 percent of the area median income for 10 years. The developer is hoping to expand the venture into other city neighborhoods soon.


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