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City, Tunney announce plans to convert station into LGBT senior housing
by Steven Chaitman

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Ald. Tom Tunney ( 44th Ward ) and the City of Chicago unveiled plans May 13 to turn the historic former 23rd District Town Hall police station at 3600 N. Halsted into affordable community housing for seniors with a specific focus on providing a secure place for LGBT seniors to "age with dignity."

The city's Department of Housing and Economic Development will work with Heartland Housing, Inc. and Center on Halsted to develop the site, which will include up to 90 rental units and also provide new retail space, all while preserving the historic location. In terms of LGBT senior housing, Tunney said the facility will be the first of its kind in the Midwest.

"I personally want to thank Mayor Daley for this opportunity to create a unique welcoming and safe environment for all our neighborhood seniors," Tunney said. "LGBT seniors will have the option to stay in the community they have lived in and worked so hard to improve. The ability to stay in their own neighborhood will help keep our seniors vibrant, engaged and healthy."

Daley, largely considered one of the country's most gay-friendly mayors, was not present for the announcement. The deal was said to be a final favor for the LGBT community before he leaves office Monday after serving as mayor for 22 years. The project, however, has been in the works for a number of years, according to Tunney.

Heartland Housing, a non-profit developer and frequent partner of the city, was the only developer to respond to the city's request for proposals last July. Executive Director Michael Goldberg said that an estimated 40,000 LGBT seniors live in the city and the population stands as one of the most invisible groups in the community.

"Chicago needs a safe, high-quality diverse and integrated affordable housing option where LGBT seniors and heterosexual seniors together can age with dignity, are free to be themselves and can expect acceptance and camaraderie," he said.

Heartland Housing will work closely with Center on Halsted, which is located adjacent to the development site. The center will provide resident and community-based services through the new space as well as expand its existing SAGE ( Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elderly ) program.

Center on Halsted Executive Director Modesto "Tico" Valle said the plans signify the continued expansion of the center's vision of being a model for the rest of the United States.

"Today we once again have the opportunity not only to create something that will impact Chicago, but will impact this country, to be the leader of LGBT housing in this country," he said.

A timetable for the project has yet to be determined. Bill Eager, chief deputy of the Department of Housing and Economic Development, said the next step in the process will be determining funding at the local, state and federal level as well as through private support and lenders.

Tunney and the city presented a rough early proposal of the new facility's design. Gensler, the architecture and design firm that put together the Center on Halsted a few years ago, created the preliminary drawings.

"The general concept is we historically preserve the police station and then we add a building that complements the Center," said Jay Longo, principal for Gensler who also worked on the Center on Halsted. "The concept of the Center was this idea of diversity and having a pattern of materials and textures that represents the fabric of the neighborhood. The fa├žade of the building and the materials create a tapestry of different things that create one unified development."

Longo said the official application that outlines the financial package for the project is due to the city in June. The final package could take as long as a year to be in place, he said, but as soon as the first wave of funding has been secured, his team will begin to work more closely on the project.

The housing units will include studios, one-bedroom units and, possibly, two-bedroom units. Longo said the universal design of the housing floors will allow Heartland Housing and the Center on Halsted to adapt the space once construction begins to best meet the needs of the community and the housing applicants.

The housing will be open to all seniors, but there will be an age minimum and an income ceiling. Further details regarding applicant screening have yet to be determined.

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