Friday, September 1, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
The last time Perry Vietti, the president of Interfaith Housing Development Corporation, was in Maywood pitching a plan to build affordable housing units in the village, he confronted a wave of criticism from residents who thought that the proposal was bad for the village’s quality of life.
In 2012, Interfaith had partnered with West Suburban PADS — a Maywood-based organization, now called Housing Forward, that provides temporary housing and a range of crisis response services for people in need.
“The community at that time didn’t feel that the development was a good fit,” said Angela Smith, Maywood’s business development coordinator, during a public meeting held inside Council Chambers on Aug. 29.
The meeting was designed to generate public input about Interfaith taking another stab at things.
Vietti said that there was “a lot of miscommunication” about the proposal when it was presented five years ago. Many Maywood residents, he said, mistakenly believed that his organization was trying to build a homeless shelter.
“Because we had PADS as a partner, the proposal got misconstrued as that and it wasn’t,” Vietti said at Tuesday’s meeting, where he presented a new proposal that calls for the construction of a 68-unit, 5-story apartment building on the site of a vacant lot at 800-820 S. 5th Ave. in Maywood, which is currently owned by the village.
Interfaith officials have said in the past that they’re willing to pay Maywood the full amount the land was appraised at. According to village documents, the land was once up for sale for $330,000.
Maywood’s business development coordinator, Angela Smith, left, addresses a resident during a public hearing on Aug. 29 regarding a proposed affordable housing development. | Michael Romain/VFP
According to the organization’s proposal documents, the project could amount to a more than $20 million investment in the village that “will bring jobs, housing and retail to downtown Maywood” and foot traffic to 5th Avenue, among other benefits. Interfaith officials added that the development could bring in estimated annual property tax revenue of around $60,000 to $70,000.
But on Monday, Vietti confronted, and tried dispelling, some of those anxieties and concerns that he ran into five years ago.
Some among the roughly 40 people in attendance at the meeting, most of them Maywood residents, were afraid that an affordable housing development would only open the door to unwanted trouble by putting a low-income development in an area marked by commercial vacancies, blight and crime.
Some also added that the development would cause a resurgence of trouble in an area that has experienced a relative lull in criminal activity since the closure of a liquor store that once operated there.
“This concerns me a great deal,” said Heather Stelnicki, a Maywood resident who lives in the area of the proposed development. She’s also a member of the village’s Plan Commission/Board of Zoning Appeals — a body that will have a say over whether to grant Interfaith the zoning relief that’s required to build the number of stories it’s requesting.
“The more units, the more possibility for trouble,” Stelnicki said, before addressing the architectural rendering of the proposed apartment building. “That really looks like a project.”
Tom Kus, who chairs the village’s Historic Preservation/Landmark Commission, expressed similar concerns. He said he was also vocally against the Interfaith proposal when it was pitched in 2012.
“We’re terrified,” Kus said. “Everybody needs a place to live, but we don’t want to start importing poor people.”
During his roughly 20-minute presentation, Vietti and other Interfaith officials addressed many of those concerns head-on.
“People think this is public housing,” Vietti said, adding that the building that Stelnicki said looked like a housing project was a preliminary architectural rendering from 2012, and that the rendering would likely change as the Maywood project evolved.
An architectural rendering from 2012, the last time Interfaith pitched a proposal to build affordable housing in Maywood. | Interfaith
“This is not government-owned housing,” Vietti said. “The government typically doesn’t fund public housing anymore. In a lot of cases it didn’t work; sometimes it did. But they really have given money to investors through the tax credit program and those investors sit on us to make sure we run it well.”
Interfaith officials said that the organization owns and manages all the buildings it operates and functions like any other market-rate development. They said that what makes their housing affordable is the fact it is income-targeted, meaning that eligible tenants must have incomes that fall below certain percentages of the area median income.
Eligible tenants of a one-person household would need to make no more than 60 percent of the AMI, or $32,180. For a four-person household, 60 percent of AMI is $47,400, according to information Vietti presented. Interfaith rents, he said, range from between $673 to $ 808 for a studio unit to $1,000 to $1,200 for a three-bedroom unit.
The Maywood development would be the nonprofit’s 17th completed project in its 25-year history. According to Interfaith’s website, six of those projects were renovations while 10 were new construction — most of them in the Chicago area.
Vietti said that Interfaith will own most of those buildings for at least several decades, as it plans to do in Maywood. And the majority of their tenants, he said, are people with jobs who are law-abiding citizens.
“We want to give people an opportunity but we also want to be careful about who we select,” Vietti said, adding that Interfaith hires case managers who monitor living conditions and tenants’ stability.
“A lot of people need our housing, but a lot of people aren’t ready for our housing,” he said. “It’s not for somebody who may be coming out of the shelter and isn’t ready for that responsibility.”
Vietti said that, this time, Interfaith is not partnering with Housing Forward (formerly West Suburban PADS), further ensuring that there’s no misconception about the kind of housing the nonprofit is seeking to build.
Interfaith officials referred those in the audience to the organization’s Oak Park development, called Grove Apartments — a 51-unit affordable housing complex, located near the corner of Madison St. and Oak Park Ave., that used to be a vacant two-story office building owned by Comcast Cable and designed by celebrity architect Albert Kahn. Interfaith conducted a $17.3 million gut rehab on the building, restoring the original façade.
When the project was being proposed, Vietti recalled, residents of that village had similar concerns to the ones expressed in Maywood. Since the building’s opening in 2013, however, few of the fears expressed by Oak Park residents have materialized, he said. An organic and natural foods grocery store, Sugar Beet Food Co-op, opened in the building’s first-level commercial space.
The exterior of Grove Apartments in Maywood, left, and a look inside one of the units inside of the Oak Park development. | Wednesday Journal
“I understand that Maywood is not Oak Park … but we’ve been through a lot of things with different communities,” Viettie said, adding that Interfaith typically tailors its developments based on the needs of individual communities.
As in Maywood, many people in Oak Park demanded that Interfaith rent to residents who live in town, so tenants who worked and lived in Oak Park were given priority during the screening process, Vietti said. The same process, he added, could be implemented with the Maywood development.
In addition, each Interfaith development has a board of managers comprised of community members. There is no 24-hour security in Oak Park, but Vietti said that security concerns are addressed based on the development’s needs.
One building in Chicago was developed without 24-hour security, but the feature was later added to address safety concerns that were emanating from outside of the building, not from residents, Vietti said.
The criticisms that some residents had of the proposal, which echoed the concerns expressed in 2012, were countered by just as many residents who seemed to welcome the development.
“This is a great opportunity we should embrace,” said Maywood Police Chief Valdmir Talley, who was among the majority of village employees and officials at the meeting in support of the development.
Maywood resident Shanee Edwards, 32, was among those who pushed back against what they said was an unfair characterization of the kind of people who depend on affordable housing.
“A lot of people have concerns with the word affordability or affordable, which makes them afraid …. But a person’s income level doesn’t [measure] whether or not they’re a productive citizen,” she said.
“People are unemployed and underemployed in the state, period. You invest so much in your school and education but there’s very little opportunity or so much competition. People are earning less than what they would have earned in the past with their education levels.”
James Clark, a 32-year-old Maywood resident, said that when he finished college he moved to an affordable income development in Addison.
“I tried to convince my girlfriend to move to Maywood,” Clark said. “Her issue is that we don’t have anything to do … To say no to what Interfaith is trying to do is not fair to Interfaith. I do remember Lorraine’s [the shuttered liquor store in the area] and it was problematic but that’s not Interfaith’s fault.”
Other residents tempered their support for the project with demands that regular citizens be included in the planning phase.
“This sounds like a really great idea on its face,” said Maywood resident Gustavo Lira. “If this proceeds, will there be a formal body of residents who have a voice at the table as a check and balance so we feel part of the process?”
Smith said that residents would be able to participate by attending more public meetings that are planned about the proposal in the future, such as a TIF public hearing that the village is required to hold on Sept. 6, because Interfaith is seeking to build in a TIF district. They aren’t, however, seeking TIF funds, village officials said.
Smith also said that Interfaith will also need to make a formal proposal before the village’s plan commission, which will make a recommendation to the village board on whether or not to grant Interfaith zoning relief.
“We have no problem setting up a working group of residents,” said Assistant Village Manager David Myers. “We’re open to all types of input.” VFP