A nonprofit group is proposing a 73-unit subsidized housing development in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood that could become a model for efforts to assist veterans, particularly women with children.
Plans for the $23 million Hope Manor II Apartments, proposed by Volunteers of America of Illinois, would bring development to a block that has been vacant for more than 20 years. It also would address the problems faced by the growing number of female veterans and the lack of resources available to them and their children.
The Department of Veterans Affairs does not yet collect extensive statistics on homeless female veterans, but it estimated their numbers more than doubled between 2006 and 2010, according to a report issued last December by the Government Accountability Office. Many of the women had children under age 18, and the report noted that limited housing for female vets and their children increases the risk of homelessness at a time when the role of women in the military continues to increase.
Women account for 8 percent of veterans, compared with 4 percent in 1990, and their numbers are expected to grow as members of the military return from active duty overseas.
The Illinois affiliate of Volunteers of America earlier this year opened Hope Manor Apartments in Humbolt Park, a $14.5 million project that provided housing and services for up to 50 male veterans. As the group was working on the development, it began seeing the need for options for other veterans.
"We were already starting to see the rising level of women and young veterans who find themselves at serious risk, that possibly their next stop was the shelter, living in the car or things like that," said Nancy Hughes Moyer, president and CEO of Volunteers' Illinois affiliate. "We knew this issue of homelessness was already starting to hit."
Ald. JoAnn Thompson, 16th, was unfamiliar with the group but after seeing the Humboldt Park project unfold, approached Moyer about bringing a veterans' housing development to her ward. "I've always had an interest in housing for homeless veterans," Thompson said. "Women are out there too. What about them, what about their children?"
Other nonprofit agencies that operate veterans' housing see the need for such facilities as well.
Catholic Charities' St. Leo Campus for Veterans, opened in 2007 in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood, was planned as transitional housing, but the agency found that because of their complicated needs, most residents continue to need supportive housing; only 40 percent move out on their own. Women reside in just 15 of the 139 currently occupied units; there are no on-campus facilities for vets with children.
"It's a growing population, and now everyone feels there is a need to reach out to families," said property manager Cynthia Steems.
As envisioned, the campus-style project would include a three-story main building fronting Halsted that would house supportive services, community space and studio and one-bedroom apartments. There also would be six three-story six-flat buildings and five four-bedroom town houses.
The 2.3-acre parcel, on the southwest corner of 60th and Halsted streets, is not without its challenges. The city plans to sell the land, which was home to the 170-bed Hospital of Englewood until it closed in 1988 after 94 years, for $1, but the site will require almost $1 million of remediation work, Moyer said.
There are neighborhood issues to contend with as well. Vacant land parcels and boarded-up homes are commonplace. There is no full-service neighborhood grocery store, although Thompson said she is working to bring one to 63rd Street.
For the first nine months of the year, crime in the Englewood district is down 9 percent from a year earlier, aided by additional local and federal law enforcement resources and a 30 percent decrease in murders. However, the 3,352 crime complaints recorded in that time frame included 31 murders, 694 robberies, 1,067 burglaries and 501 complaints of aggravated battery, according to Chicago Police Department figures.
Moyer acknowledges the neighborhood's challenges.
"There isn't a lot of money to invest in market-rate land," she said. "You really need to get donated land, and you're going to get donated land in areas where there is not a lot of demand. You start to improve a community by getting rid of a lot of vacant land and replacing it with positive, vibrant activities."
"Once you bring people, you bring a market for more development" as well as make the area safer for the families already living there, she added. "It is people like us that are willing to be the urban pioneers, so to speak."
The proposal, which required some zoning changes, unanimously passed at the Chicago Plan Commission meeting Thursday. More approvals are required, but a spring groundbreaking is expected, and the first move-ins could be in late 2013.
Most of the financing for the project already has been committed and involves proceeds from the sale of low-income housing tax credits, tax-increment financing and an affordable-housing loan. The group also has applied for $790,000 from the Illinois Housing Development Authority's permanent supportive housing fund.