Residents concerned about plans for large Jefferson Park rental building

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Residents in Chicago's Jefferson Park neighborhood are voicing their concerns about plans to build a mixed-income housing unit near their homes.

They fear a decrease in property values. Their alderman disagrees.

It's not just property values that worry residents; many believe the proposed project is too tall and big for the neighborhood, and they are concerned about the impact on schools that are already overcrowded.

Nestled between a police station, railroad tracks and a four-lane Milwaukee Avenue, sits an empty warehouse. The Jefferson Park property has been vacant for four years. But Ald. John Arena said he hopes that's not for long. The 45th Ward alderman is pushing a plan to build a seven-story, 100-unit residential rental building -- 80 units will be reserved for low-income tenants; 20 will rent at market rate.

"What we need to do to support folks who are income challenged, is get them in a community that is strong," said Arena.

Arena says the disabled and veterans will get priority; the goal is to have at least 50 percent of the units occupied by vets.

Arena organized a community meeting on the project Thursday night. A large crowd, mostly protesters, gathered outside.

"It doesn't work. You are just making it worse for them. Why not build them houses?" asked Leno Dones, who is against the project.
"I came here because I believe we need more affordable, accessible housing for people with disabilities," said Cathleen O'Bryan, who supports the project.

About 300 people were allowed inside for the meeting, which was restricted to Ward 45 residents only and was closed to the media. Many of those who live outside the ward were upset by the restriction.

"He won't let anybody in who is not in the 45th Ward. He's denying people. He is throwing them out," said Mary Lou Damato, who lives in a neighboring ward.

Even before the meeting, there were mixed feelings in the neighborhood.

"I'd love to see true mixed-income housing, I'd love to see the area developed," said Tanya King, who owns property In Jefferson Park.

"I'm a veteran myself," said Richard Gengler, Jefferson Park resident. "If you look at what is written, there is no guarantee there will be any vets there."
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Residents in Chicago's Jefferson Park neighborhood are voicing their concerns about plans to build a mixed-income housing unit near their homes.

Gengler and his family just bought a home a block-and-half away from the proposed project. He and many of his neighbors are against it.

"These buildings sometime bring a criminal element, so I do worry about the safety of my family. And I'm also worried about my property values," said Gengler.

Gengler and the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association worry the size of building doesn't fit in an area full of two-flats and single-family homes. Bob Bank, of the JPNA, considers the project the warehousing of the poor.

"It's a 1950's approach to affordable housing -- compacting people into a building, no one does that anymore," Bank said.

"This is 100 units, not 1,500. This is not public housing. We are never going back to that," said Arena.

Arena's office said they will look at the feedback they received at the community meeting and then meet with the builder to discuss the road forward.
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