Senior residents have moved into Center on Halsted and Heartland Alliance's new Town Hall Apartments at 3600 N. Halsted St.
Standing as the Chicago area's first LGBTQ-friendly, affordable senior living option, the facility has 79 one-bedroom and studio apartments that are occupied by 83 residents 55 years and older, who continue to settle in and make their new living units home. The doors opened for the move-in process late August with all the yearly leases signed by Sept. 12.
"It is very diverse and it's very much for the community that is in need of affordable housing," said Modesto "Tico" Valle, Center on Halsted's CEO. "It's been very humbling to see seniors move in and to hear the news that they've been selected. As one senior put it, he felt like he won the lottery and he was in tears."
According to Kandyse McCoy Cunningham, director of property management for Heartland Housing, 440 people applied for the housing during the initial two-day pre-application session to qualify potential residents at Center on Halsted in May. Leases were to be offered and signed through the end of October, but due to the popularity of the project, the spaces filled up within a 15-day period, and sooner than expected.
"It's another proud day for our community on the corner of Halsted and Waveland and Addison," said Valle. "The fact that affordable housing in Lake View was a factor and the baby boomers are beginning to retire is another factor. There have been a lot of reports out there on LGBT seniors and the fact that they're being discriminated against, there is an urgent need for us. The volume of individuals that come to Center on Halsted, whether they're coming for therapy, or HIV testing, or connection, or community, housing is a basic need that is the common thread for everyone."
The senior housing project has been part of a vision for 10 years. Within the last five years the project has come to fruition. It also repurposes the 23rd district Town Hall police station.
Pat Cummings lived in Lake View in her late 20s and early 30s. Having moved into her one-bedroom unit at Town Hall Apartments Aug. 30, she looks forward to living in the neighborhood again. Her television is set up and ready for watching college football and her kitchen is filled with the aroma of home cooking, but she still has a few boxes to move in and photographs to put on the walls. Expensive rents; not making enough money in the pet-care business; and her participation in the SAGE Center on Halsted, COH's senior program, led her to apply for the new housing. Cummings, who came out as a lesbian at a young age, found living among the LGBT community appealing.
"Some of the people that live here I've known for a whilethey're part of the SAGE group," said Cummings. "I would like to try to make a community here with us so that we all kind of take care of each other and just watch outhave a little community."
Valle estimated at least 50 of the residents are active participants of the SAGE program. There are also LGBT individuals who have not participated in SAGE and allies living in the building.
Christian Halvorsen, a new resident in a studio apartment, was involved with SAGE prior to moving in Sept. 6. Getting older, and living with a disability, he said living close to the senior activities was beneficial.
"It helps to have a lot of people in the same boat that you are, that hopefully have the same idea of what they want in life," said Halvorsen, a gay man.
Eva Skye was celebrating her birthday Aug. 8 when she got the phone call that she was approved. Calling it the best birthday present ever, this is the first time she will live in Lake View. Previously she lived in what she described as a "sleazy" single-room occupancy ( SRO ) in Uptown.
"I'm thrilled to be here," Skye said. "I take public transportation and taking the red line home to Uptown late at night was really tricky. I've been coming to Lake View since '08, coming to the Center and going to Howard Brown, but it's another thing to live here, to start to know the nuances and the little things you just don't notice when you don't live here because you're usually in a hurry to get home or get to the Center or to get to that baryour favorite watering holeor whatever it is. When you live here you notice things differently."
Skye, a transwoman and self-described busy-body, said she is always "wigglin' and gigglin' down the street." Her studio apartment is colorful and adorned with her own art. In her new kitchen, she intends to return to being a vegan. She also enjoys the facility's fitness room.
"I'm shocked by how nice they made it for being on their budget," Skye said. "They made it really senior-friendly. I love the cabinets and the racks they put in the closet. I fell in love with the closet when I walked in. I'm home. Why say a thousand words when I can say 'I'm home.'"
Residents live on floors two through six and each floor has a laundry room. Natural light pours through all the building's windows. The studio apartments measure at 450 square feet, while the one-bedroom apartments are 600 square feet. COH's senior programming will also be moving into the building the first week of November. Residents and non-residents will be able to enjoy increased programming in a bigger 5,500-square-foot space on the first floor. Commercial tenants will occupy the remainder of the space on the first floor. The facility's second floor holds a common area kitchen, dining room, fitness room, computer lab, case management offices and outdoor terrace overlooking Halsted Street.
There are no surprises when it comes to the unit layout, as Valle said it came from the seniors' own thoughts, visions and conversations. In 2012, senior design workshops were held. With tape on the floor representing the size and space each unit had, senior participants were engaged in ongoing conversations and asked where they preferred the bedroom, kitchen and living room. The input was recorded to share with other institutions.
"One of the things we learned from senior centers around the country was that there was no gathering space," said Valle about designing the facility. "A lot of other models around the country had to go back and redesign community space because there was nowhere for the residents to gather and to build community. So, that was one of the things we learned from doing our homework and were very intentional about the common space, so that it would be large enough for community meals and community meetings, living room and gathering space and not just residential. That was something pretty big."
Center on Halsted and Heartland Housing will host the grand opening of Town Hall Apartments Oct. 10. Located at the apartment complex, the ribbon-cutting ceremony will begin at 10:30 a.m., while the reception and tours will start at 11:30 a.m.
"I think it's very important, it's very much needed and we hope that this is going to be a model for other institutions to follow and we hope that maybe this is our first one and more to come," said Valle. "It is a dream for many and we are building community and they don't live in isolation. They're part of something very large that's going to help them live very healthy lives and I think instead of planning for the end, they're planning for new beginnings."
For more information, visit: www.centeronhalsted.org/senior.html .