Proposed Von Humboldt apartment complex for Chicago teachers clears key City Hall hurdle

A plan to turn the vacant Von Humboldt Elementary School into an 107-unit apartment complex and five townhomes geared toward educators won the endorsement of a key city panel Thursday after the developer promised to set aside half of the units for low- and moderate-income residents.

Alderman Daniel La Spata asked the Plan Commission to endorse the three-year-old proposal from Newark, New Jersey-based developer RBH Group that would transform the shuttered Logan Square elementary school, which has been vacant since it was one of nearly 50 schools closed in 2013 as part of the largest mass school closure in the United States’ modern history.

If approved by the City Council’s Zoning Committee and the full City Council, the $21 million project would mark the second time one of the closed schools would be transformed into apartments. In Uptown, the former Stewart Elementary School is now the Stewart School Lofts, with rent starting at $1,700 per month for studios and nearly $4,000 for three-bedroom units, according to online listings.

La Spata said he pressed the developer to ensure that the former school could be turned into homes for those being priced out of Logan Square so they can stay in the community and that the apartments would be affordable for the long term.

“We can create diverse, affordable communities that thrive,” La Spata told the commission.

Under the city’s Affordable Housing Requirements ordinance, a minimum of 15 percent of the units — or 16 units — would have to be set aside for Chicagoans earning 60 percent of the area’s median income, which is approximately $54,000 for a family of four.

Housing Department Commissioner Marisa Novara praised the developer for agreeing to go beyond the minimum requirements. 

Two of the 52 affordable units would be earmarked for those earning 30 percent of the area’s median income, and 23 units would be set aside for those earning 50 percent of the area’s median income. The remaining 27 units are set to be rented to tenants earning the area’s median income, but Novara said she had a commitment from the developer to make 25 of those  units more affordable using resources from the Chicago Housing Authority and the city’s Low Income Housing Trust Fund.

RBH Group’s Ron Beit said the firm worked hard to win the approval.

“We are excited to bring the former Von Humboldt school back to life with teachers,” Beit wrote in a statement. “We will create affordable, workforce, and market-rate housing marketed to educators in the community, as well as a fresh food market, community space, and a lifelong learning center.”

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

The City Council’s Zoning Committee could consider the project at its next meeting, set for Jan. 14.

Affordable housing for teachers and families at risk of homelessness surfaced as one of the broader social justice demands in the tense contract negotiations earlier this year between the Chicago’s Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools. Mayor Lori Lightfoot took it off the table during an 11-day strike by pledging to create an affordable housing taskforce. She named members of the 20-person task force in November.  

This story was reported by The Daily Line.