In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Community Development Corporations Embrace Historic Rehabs
  • Melissa Jest (bio)

The award-winning Harvest Commons Apartments in Chicago’s Near Westside reconfigures a historic Art Deco hotel into a “green living” complex, complete with an onsite urban farm and support services that teach residents about nutrition and healthful living. Nearby amenities for residents and neighbors include a seasonal farmers’ market as well as Gracie’s Café, a social enterprise coffee shop on site. Harvest Commons was developed in 2012 by Heartland Housing, Inc. (a program of Heartland Alliance), which manages it along with 846 affordable units across the Chicago region and Midwest.


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With its award-winning Harvest Commons Apartments in Chicago, Heartland Housing rescued a deteriorating Art Deco gem to provide low-income housing with healthy-living amenities.

BEFORE PHOTO (LEFT) COURTESY OF LANDON BONE BAKER ARCHITECTS; AFTER PHOTO (RIGHT) COURTESY OF HEARTLAND HOUSING, SHANE WELCH PHOTOGRAPHER

Heartland Housing is not a preservation organization—it is a Community Development Corporation (CDC). CDCs are locally based nonprofit organizations that work to improve opportunities and the quality of life in struggling neighborhoods. CDCs address concerns related to employment, education, neighborhood planning, income and asset building, access to health services—all to break [End Page 31] the cycle of poverty and enhance community livability. And while the word “preservation” may not appear anywhere in their mission statements, a large number of these organizations are doing preservation. By preserving historic fabric, these nonprofit community developers are strengthening their respective cities, fueling economic growth and fulfilling social missions. In this article, the leaders and managers of four CDCs—Heartland Housing, Inc., in Chicago; Innovative Housing, Inc. (IHI), in Portland, Oregon; Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC); and Mission First Housing Group, which is based in Philadelphia but has projects across the mid-Atlantic region—share their experiences and discuss the benefits and challenges of redevelopment projects using historic buildings.

PROVIDING A PLACE TO LIVE WITH DIGNITY

Many urban areas and older neighborhoods are experiencing a resurgence as middle America finds its way back to cities. This is both a boon and a challenge to CDCs given their long-term commitment to places that are just now being “rediscovered.” By reusing historic buildings, CDCs have achieved their interrelated goals of creating high-quality, sustainable housing for low-income residents and stimulating communitywide revitalization.

Nadia Underhill, associate director of real estate development for Heartland Housing, says, “We believe strongly in the importance of place, of minimizing environmental impact, and of creating places where the most vulnerable can live with dignity.”

The reuse of historic buildings supports this, providing places to live that are not merely functional but often also unique and beautiful. Most renters appreciate the old wood floors, exposed brick walls, and period finishes retained in the historic rehabs. Underhill notes, “The historic features of Harvest Commons—the terra cotta detail, lobby plasterwork, intricate lobby tile work, and arched residential hallways—heighten the beauty of the building and are the result of craft mastery that would [be too costly and difficult to create] in a new building.”

Donna Creedon is the project manager for Mission First Housing Group, which has just completed the rehabilitation of a former police [End Page 32] station into a 47-unit housing and retail complex in one of Baltimore’s oldest and most eclectic neighborhoods. She says, “When so much brand new construction looks so much alike, being able to offer apartments with exposed brick walls, high ceilings and arched windows helps Fells Point Station stand out in the marketplace.”


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Fells Point Station, a project of Mission First Housing Group, combines a former police station with compatible new construction to offer apartments and retail space in a section of Baltimore in need of revitalization.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF MISSION FIRST HOUSING GROUP

EVERYONE BENEFITS

The CDC staff interviewed for this article agree that rehabbing historic buildings for affordable housing offers benefits not only to the tenants and owners but also to the surrounding community. Neighbors observe a drop in crime, patronize the new businesses created in mixed-use developments or stimulated by the influx of tenants, and appreciate seeing...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2325-7296
Print ISSN
1536-1012
Pages
pp. 31-39
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-10
Open Access
No
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