AUBURN GRESHAM — New affordable housing and renovated retail space was unveiled Thursday along Auburn Gresham’s bustling 79th Street corridor.
Leaders at 548 Capital, a branch of 548 Enterprise, joined local officials to cut a long red ribbon in front of their newest project at 1376 W. 79th St. 548 Enterprise, a Black-owned company, builds environmentally equitable developments across the city.
Developers rehabilitated the once-decrepit 79th Street building to create “one of the most sustainable projects of the South Side’s history,” Robert “A.J.” Patton, founder at 548 Enterprise, told Block Club Chicago.
The building has 28 affordable studio to two-bedroom apartments and 15 parking spaces, Patton said. Nine units are affordable for neighbors making 80 percent of the area median income for 10 years.
Each unit has energy-efficient lighting, high-performance windows and HVAC systems that preserve energy when cooling and heating units. Phase two of the project will include adding solar photovoltaic rooftop panels to the building.
“The mission of our company and everything we do has sustainability connected to it,” Patton said. “We also feel efficiency and sustainability should have equity built into it. These communities are being rushed out of the sustainability conversation, so we’re pushing back on not just those narratives but people’s lived experiences. Seventy-ninth Street is an important corridor that needed that investment.”
The 79th Street building has 7,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor to foster commercial development, Patton said.
Developers renovated the boutique, barbershop, nail salon and dry cleaning businesses that have long been staples on the ground floor of the Auburn Gresham building, and they’re open and ready to serve the community, Patton said. Patton wants “people that are going to be truly invested and committed to the community” to fill the remaining seven storefronts, he said.
The Auburn Gresham development is “pivotal towards building a better, stronger, safer Chicago,” Deputy Mayor Kenya K. Merritt said.
“Our neighborhoods on the South and West sides have experienced plans and policies that have led to intentional disinvestment,” Merritt said. “I can commend A.J. and his team for leading as developers of color, for leading efforts to make Auburn Gresham as accessible and as inclusive a community as possible, and leading as some of the best affordable developers in the business.”
It took more than two years to complete the $2.7 million project, Patton said.
The developer received a $500,000 grant from the Department of Housing’s TIF Purchase Rehab program, which supports private developers revitalizing vacant or underused buildings on the South and West sides. The group used the grant to revamp the four open businesses on the building’s ground floor, Patton said.
The company also received a $1.5 million loan from LISC Chicago’s Entrepreneurs of Color Fund and further assistance from JPMorgan Chase through the LISC program. Another $88,000 from ComEd’s Affordable Housing New Construction program helped support the project.
Lowe’s, a “secret friend” that swooped in when the project was “over budget by multiple hundred thousands of dollars,” gave the company $500,000 in free materials, a “massive line of credit” and a “big discount,” Patton said.
“This is about coalition. This is about collaboration,” Patton said. “This doesn’t get done without everyone involved.”
When work on the housing reached a standstill, Ald. David Moore (17th), whose ward includes the development, “came in like a superhero” to make the project happen, Patton said.
“We have something here in the Auburn Gresham community that’s going to shine,” Moore said.
Seventy-ninth Street has seen a rise in developments in the past few years.
The Auburn Gresham Healthy Lifestyle Hub opened in October 2022 and quickly became a destination for medical care, banking and educational resources.
Auburn Gresham Apartments, a $43 million Invest South/West project a few steps from the 79th Street affordable housing development, will soon complete construction.
Auburn Park, a Metra station more than a decade in the making, is expected to open in 2024.
There’s a movement happening to revitalize the 79th Street corridor, but “I’m proud to say that we’re first,” Patton said.
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