Community Forum Engages Garfield Park Residents in Affordable Housing Project

The multi-purpose room at Marillac Social Center was full on Wednesday night,

with almost 60 East Garfield Park community members in the audience as well as staff from host agencies Marillac St. Vincent Family Services (MSV), Deborah’s Place, and Heartland Alliance. The event was a presentation and open forum on an affordable housing project to be developed on the site of Calhoun North Elementary School, which was closed by CPS in 2013 and still sits vacant on Adams Street.

Charlie Johnson from Heartland Housing presents renderings of the new development.

This group of nonprofit organizations began the process to develop the Calhoun School in 2015. As neighbors of the once vibrant elementary school, Deborah’s Place and MSV are particularly interested in making sure any development of the space will be a positive addition to the neighborhood and the people they serve.

Audrey Thomas, Chief Executive Officer at Deborah’s Place said, “Deborah’s Place has always been supportive of the plan to convert Calhoun School to affordable housing and community space for the neighborhood. We believe it is an ideal space to bring together affordable housing for single women and families as well as shared space for the neighborhood. We want to work with our neighbors, Marillac St. Vincent Family Services and Heartland Alliance, to create a building that is an anchor for safe, affordable housing and community life.”

At the forum, Heartland Housing’s Associate Director of Real Estate Development, Charlie Johnson, gave a brief presentation on their proposal, revealed preliminary drawings and renderings, and took questions from the audience.

About the building:

  • The building will not be demolished, but re-developed to include 64 studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom affordable units.
  • There will be a 20-spot free parking lot behind the building for residents on a first come, first served basis.
  • The area that currently houses a school gymnasium and auditorium will be used as some sort of open community space, open to the public. Heartland did not have details on what the community space would be, but the organization is interested in gathering input from East Garfield Park residents on use of the space.
  • There will be on-site property management, maintenance staff, front desk support, and Deborah’s Place staff members to offer their services to residents.
  • There will be a landscape of native grasses and solar panels on the roof.
  • The playground that currently sits on the Calhoun lot will be updated and continue to be open to the public, as well as residents of the new building.

About the development process:

  • Heartland has requested to re-zone the lot in order to begin redeveloping the property. However, construction will not begin until they secure funding.
  • The total cost of the redevelopment would be approximately $20 million, with $13 million sourced from tax credits (if approved) and the other $7 million from city and state governmental agencies.
  • While the timeline is hard to estimate, Heartland said the building could be completed within two years from the time they receive approval for tax credits, with construction itself lasting approximately 12 months.
  • During construction, Heartland would use a local contractor that Alderman Burnett says, “regularly hires people from the community.”

Alderman Burnett answers questions from residents.

Many Garfield Park residents had questions and comments on the presentation. Community members spoke about needing more parking in the area, and that a 20-car lot may not be enough. Another resident expressed concerns about rising property taxes and asked if he and other members of the community could get a seat at the table in the discussions for the development. Mostly, attendees urged for transparency and to be involved. Johnson listened to concerns and attempted to assure residents, “This is our attempt to be transparent, to listen to the community, and hear feedback.”

Alderman Walter Burnett fielded questions from his constituency and expressed his continuing commitment to this project. He said of the Heartland development, “Affordable housing is trying to allow for folks who have been in the neighborhood for a while to stay in the neighborhood.”

Maureen Hallagan, Chief Operating Officer at MSV, commented, “We believe that the addition of 64 units of affordable housing, in conjunction with the supportive housing that Deborah’s Place provides and our comprehensive social services at Marillac St. Vincent Family Services all within the same block, will further enhance, stabilize, and unify the community.”

The forum demonstrated a renewed effort from Heartland Alliance to make progress on this project, and a continued interested to include residents in the area in the decision-making process. The last time there was a community meeting about the Heartland housing in Calhoun School was in 2015. For more information on the project or how you can make your voice heard, email

Access the presentation from the forum

Learn about Heartland Alliance and Deborah's Place

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