City loan helps renovate Lawson House

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A $122 million project to upgrade apartments for low-income tenants at the former Lawson House YMCA, 30 W. Chicago Ave., won crucial backing from aldermen on Tuesday.

The City Council’s Housing and Property Committee has approved a city loan of up to $17.59 million to support the top-to-bottom renovation of the Art Deco building. Its 583 units had made it the largest single-occupancy apartment site in the city.

Holsten Real Estate Development’s project will reduce that number to 406 units while bringing them up to today’s standards, which require private kitchens and bathrooms in every apartment. The building’s mechanics will be replaced and all units will be air-conditioned, housing department officials said.

The loan from the city’s multi-family program funds will be interest-free and will join funding from numerous sources, including a $79.38 million bridge loan from Chase Bank and a $17.2 million loan from the Illinois Housing Development Authority. Other funds come from the syndication of low-income housing tax credits and approximately $12.4 million in historic preservation tax credits.

The ordinance authorizing the city loan was sponsored by Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Committee members passed it unanimously. The President, Ald. Harry Osterman (48and) said he would be presented to the full council on September 14.

Developer Peter Holsten’s work has been planned for years. The Chicago Metropolitan YMCA sold Lawson House to him in 2014 for $1 with the agreement that he would continue to provide low-income housing.

The building’s entrance will be moved from Chicago Avenue to Dearborn Street, according to city documents, and its historic gymnasium will become a fitness center.

City officials said construction is expected to take about 30 months. Current tenants would be placed in suitable and preferred housing when the building is ready for re-occupancy.

Holsten could not be reached for comment. His previous work as one of the city’s leading affordable housing developers includes mixed-income housing on the former Cabrini-Green property.

Lawson House dates from 1931, city officials said, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built with a donation to the YMCA from Victor Lawson, publisher of the Chicago Daily News, and opened as a full-service hotel, with social services that helped people through the Great Depression. He moved to housing after World War II.

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