Affordable housing coming to St. Vitus location
March 1, 2019

Rendering show plans to develop the former Church of St. Vitus, located at 18th and Paulina Streets, into an affordable housing complex.

The Resurrection Project (TRP), a non-profit organization based in Pilsen and devoted to creating community ownership, will renew and develop the former Roman Catholic Church of St. Vitus, located at 18th and Paulina Streets, into affordable housing in the next two years.

TRP collaborated with the architectural firm Canopy on plans to develop St. Vitus into a 54,220-square-foot residential complex with 42 housing units targeted toward individuals and families within 30% to 60% of the area median income, defined by housing professionals as the midpoint of a region’s income distribution.

St. Vitus is in Pilsen’s historic district. Czechoslovakian immigrants constructed the church in the 1890s, and by the 1980s it and was a predominantly Mexican-American parish. The Archdiocese of Chicago closed St. Vitus in 1990 due to a lack of parishioners.

The Pilsen Alliance community group is keeping a watchful eye on the proposed development. “This has always been a working class community, whether it was the Italian, Polish, or Latino population,” said Jose Requena of Pilsen Alliance. “Families grow under these rougher situations but foster a sense of place and dignified life because of that. Will this new development do more of that or take us away from that? That is what Pilsen Alliance is monitoring.”

Years after the archdiocese closed the church, TRP acquired the facility with the intent of benefiting the community. The location has served various occupants, with the longest being a daycare center, the Guadalupano Family Center, operated by Chicago Commons. From 1994 to 2018, the rectory held TRP offices.

Difficulties with the church’s 1890s construction proved challenging to overcome during various renovation efforts and after a main pipe burst. TRP’s primary concern was infrastructure failure considering the church’s age. Considering the Church of St. Vitus’s rich history in Pilsen, the project also aims to include historic preservation for the site.

With St. Vitus adjacent to the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) 18th Street Pink Line station, “it obviously has tremendous benefits for affordable housing,” said Veronica Gonzalez, vice president of real estate development for TRP.

To serve low-income urban families, TRP found the St. Vitus location suitable for equitable transit oriented development, a tool that ensures a range of housing choices despite increasing property values. The ability of potential residents to live within a quarter-mile of a CTA Pink Line station is a huge aspect of TRP’s vision for the development to create community benefits.

Unit sizes will vary from one to three bedrooms, and developers intend to cater to every income level ranging from $17,800 to $58,920. Rents for the complex would range from $414 to $1,553. Both income and rent limits are set by the City of Chicago in conjunction with the Illinois Housing Development Authority, whose rules affordable housing programs must follow.

To further alleviate expenses for future residents, the building’s design emphasizes environmental sustainability and energy efficiency.

Most of the time TRP “pays the utilities on the units, but the tenants still pay a portion of their utilities,” Gonzalez said. “Any benefits that we bring for green design is something that ultimately lowers the utility costs that the tenants have.”

Even as TRP aims to lower overall costs for tenants, rising rents in Pilsen prove difficult to combat. According to data from the Chicago Rehab Network, over a ten-year period, the median household income in the City of Chicago decreased by 8.1% while the percentage of renters defined as “cost burdened” increased by 10.1%.

Gonzales noted rents in the community likely will continue to rise, even when a new alderman takes office in the 25th Ward. “What we have the ability to do and what we have done with the 330 units that we manage in the community now is build the units, build them so that they are eligible for low-income families, and they will be affordable permanently,” Gonzalez said.

“Conversations with entities need to be productive, but the plans set in motion by development in the city almost seem like a lumbering mountain coming towards you that you cannot stop,” Requena said.

Every prospective resident of the development must undergo an application process. TRP manages a waitlist for every development; however, the St. Vitus development does not have an active waitlist. After construction begins, TRP plans to open up a waitlist for the property.

Both Canopy and Alderman Daniel Solis declined to comment on the new development.

For Canopy, go to canopy-chicago.com. For Pilsen Alliance, log on to www.thepilsenalliance.org. For more on TRP, log on to resurrectionproject.org.

—Nawal Dairi