Development Without Gentrification: Garfield Green Housing Plan Aims To Spur Growth, Maintain Affordability On West Side

rendering of the Garfield Green project.

Pascal Sabino @Pascal_Sabino

GARFIELD PARK — In a West Side neighborhood facing gentrification, a sustainable housing project will be guided by the needs of residents so they will be the first to benefit from new development in the area.

The project, tentatively called the Garfield Green, is an attempt to create environmentally-friendly affordable housing stock to spur economic development without pricing out longtime residents, according to local leaders.

The precise details on what the housing development will look like are still in the works, pending input from neighbors. But the partners want to create more than 80 units of carbon-neutral housing as well as around 9,000 square feet of commercial space.

The building may incorporate solar energy, a green roof, electric car charging stations and landscaping designed to soak up stormwater to prevent flooding, said Mike Tomas, the Garfield Park Community Council’s executive director.

It will also be designed to take advantage of the transit options in the Fifth City neighborhood, like the Kedzie-Homan Blue Line station, which link the area to economic centers like the Loop.

Garfield Green is moving forward with the support of low-income housing tax credits and is being developed by the nonprofit Preservation of Affordable Housing.

Since getting the green light from the city in March, Preservation of Affordable Housing has conducted surveys and solicited feedback from residents so there can be community ownership of the development.

“These neighborhoods have just been kind of not included for anything happening to them,” said Felicia Dawson, a vice president for the housing nonprofit. “If you’re bringing it to the neighborhood then people from the neighborhood should be the ones who get to use it.”

Garfield Green would attract new businesses to the area around the Blue Line station, which has seen little investment for decades, advocates said.

According to Elevated Chicago, one of the partners behind Garfield Green, transit-oriented development projects within a half-mile of a transportation hub can catalyze other upgrades to an area. Such projects can improve access to key amenities and lower the cost of living. It can also be healthier for residents and better for the environment by reducing people’s reliance on cars.

But historically, most transit-oriented development driven by the city has concentrated these benefits in more affluent areas, said Roberto Requejo of Elevated Chicago.

“We have been planned and developed to be segregated,” Requejo said. “To be disconnected from each other, to extract wealth from communities of color … to disinvest some communities to invest in others.”

The Garfield Park Community Council has been working with residents to brainstorm how to use transit hubs as anchor points for other neighborhood initiatives addressing health inequalities, affordable housing, environmental issues and food scarcity.

Tomas said the housing development would help sustain other community-driven improvement plans, such as the Garfield Park Eco-Orchard being created nearby along Fifth Avenue.

The orchard is a resident-driven way to address the scarcity in healthy food in the area. It is supported by the city’s Resilient Corridors initiative to develop green infrastructure that prevents stormwater damage and flooding.

The housing development “aligned with some of our climate resilience work in the neighborhood and specifically on that block,” Tomas said.

The neighborhood group has worked for years to balance the need for economic revitalization and housing in the area while ensuring longtime residents can benefit from new opportunities.

Garfield Park is one of the most rapidly gentrifying parts of the city. The council found during the housing crisis of 2008, a quarter of properties in the area went into foreclosure. Since then, property values there have risen 140 percent.

In just the past year, Tomas said, home prices have risen faster than in any other neighborhood in the city at 20 percent, threatening to price out longtime residents. The vast majority of residents are renters, and most are rent-burdened despite the relatively low cost of living in Garfield Park.

Steep utility prices have driven some of the rent increases in recent years, and the neighborhood is particularly vulnerable to flooding and stormwater damages. The green infrastructure in the project would help mitigate some of those issues and address the lack of greenery along the streetscape.

The partners behind the sustainable housing development say they hope it can be a model for what equitable transit-oriented development could look like in Black communities across the city.

“The history of planning and development in Chicago has been about keeping people outside of the table, especially people of color …, so others could make decisions for them,” Requejo said. “We are one of the most inequitable cities in the world … .

“So clearly the models that we have in the past have not helped and, to the contrary, have hurt our communities.”

Residents can get involved and offer feedback on the project by visiting the Garfield Green site.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.