According to activist Robert Castillo, having the new LGBT-friendly residential development that carries both his name, and the name of his late husband, John Pennycuff, will ultimately be like "planting a flag on the moon."
"It says, 'We've been here,'" said Castillo. "There are many LGBTQs that are active in non-LGBTQ community organizations in Logan Square, and while they may not fly a rainbow flag, their contributions to the Logan Square area are vast."
Castillo and Pennycuff were involved in both LGBT-rights activism as well as fair-housing activism for several years. The John Pennycuff Memorial Apartments at Castillo Plaza were first announced in May and will be located at the site of Congress Pizzeria, 2033 N. Milwaukee Ave. The project, the second of its kind in the city, would be seven stories and include about 88 units.
"This project addresses two common myths about the LGBTQ community head on," said Castillo. "The first being that members of the LGBTQ community are all well off and the second [is] that we have made such strides that housing discrimination is no longer an issue. … This project will [also] provide a means for people who have been displaced by rising rents to return to the community, including friends of mine. Gentrification affects low income LGBTQs and I think that the need exists for affordable housing both within Logan Square and across the city."
He added that he was grateful for the support of Ald. Joe Moreno, who has shepherded the project, which is pending city approval.
A community meeting was held about the project Nov. 29. Prior to that meeting, "The developers met with community organizations to hear their concerns with the building and the developers have made some changes which were discussed at the community meeting," Castillo said. "Going forward, I feel that the LGBTQ community needs to be vocal and fight for both this project and greater affordable housing access across the city."
Castillo hopes the project will also be a venue for LGBTs and others to more easily receive needed services, not just improved accommodations access.
"Ideally, I'd like to see LGBTQ organizations use The Pennycuff Memorial Apartments for meetings or host drop-in clinics," he said. "Can you imagine having Gerber-Hart in the space, or a Howard Brown Health or CALOR, to address LGBTQ health needs? The possibilities are exciting and it would be amazing to have a mural of John in the lobby or colors of the rainbow incorporated into both the building's interior and exterior."
At the Nov. 29 meeting, Castillo elaborated in his remarks on how the building will become an asset to the community.
"There have been many gains by the LGBTQ community but for many low income LGBTQs, finding affordable, let alone LGBTQ friendly, housing is nearly impossible," said Castillo. "Add to that the fact that there is still strong bi-phobia and trans-phobia that permeates both the LGBT community and larger population, and it makes the need for this type of development that much more pressing."
He added that, "Rents have risen and many long time residents have been forced to leave this great and amazing neighborhood. … I am here tonight because I believe that this project would be an amazing asset to the community and a fitting legacy to John Pennycuff. His was the hand I held onto and The John Pennycuff Memorial Apartments at Castillo Plaza could be that 'hand' for so many."