Controversial plan to turn closed Humboldt school into teacher-focused apartments stalls again

Chicago Alderman Daniel La Spata said Wednesday he will ask members of the Chicago Plan Commission to delay a vote on a proposal to turn the vacant Von Humboldt Elementary School into a 107-unit apartment complex and five townhomes geared toward teachers. 

The developer, Newark, N.J.-based RBH Group, has been trying since 2016 to transform the shuttered Humboldt Park elementary school, which has been vacant since it was one of 49 schools closed in 2013 as part of the largest mass school closure in the country’s modern history.

This is the second time La Spata has asked the Plan Commission not to consider the proposal. In June, the rookie alderman blocked the Plan Commission from considering the proposal.

“There is still a lot of tension with the community,” La Spata said. “I think we can get it there, but we are not there yet.”

Plans detailed by the developer at community meetings would reserve 24% of the apartments for Chicagoans making no more than 60% of the area’s median income, with another 35% for “middle-income” teachers, according to Block Club Chicago.

La Spata said he was not convinced that plan for affordable housing was enough to win his support.

“There is a lot of concern about whether it would help people being priced out of the community,” La Spata said, adding that some area residents want the developer to sign a community benefits agreement. “I would be disappointed if it moves forward.”

The plan also calls for 53 parking spaces and “classroom, community, commercial and office uses,” according to documents submitted to the Chicago Planning Department.

In response to questions about whether the item will be considered, a spokesperson for the Department of Planning and Development referred a reporter from The Daily Line to the city’s code, which requires the Plan Commission to hold and conclude a public hearing within 30 days of commencement,” unless the applicant asks for an extension.

Under the city’s unwritten rule of aldermanic prerogative that gives each alderman the ultimate say over what happens in their own ward, La Spata could block the Plan Commission from considering the project indefinitely. However, as Mayor Lori Lightfoot works to roll back aldermen’s veto power, it was unclear whether the proposal would move forward without La Spata’s support.

The issue of affordable housing surfaced several times in public discourse during the 11-day Chicago teachers strike, with the union asking for housing assistance for teachers and families as well as a broader plan on the issue. The conversation was ultimately shelved when the mayor announced she would put together an affordable housing task force to review the city’s affordable housing requirements.

This story was reported and produced by The Daily Line.