Senior housing complex in downtown Harvey, known as the 'YMCA building,' getting $15 million renovation
“It’s a new beginning,” said George Ellis, who's lived at the building for seven years. “It’s a blessing to all my fellow tenants—a change.”
George Ellis has lived at the South Suburban Senior Housing Apartments in downtown Harvey, also known as the “YMCA building,” for seven years. He’s been fairly content in that time.
“I fell in love with this place when I first moved here,” he said. Now, he’s embracing change in a building that he hopes to remain in for the remainder of his life.
The 120-unit, affordable housing development owned by nonprofit developer Preservation of Affordable Housing, Inc. is getting a $15 million renovation.
“It’s a new beginning,” Ellis said at a press conference last week announcing the rehabilitation efforts. “It’s a blessing to all my fellow tenants—a change.”
Upgrades include facelifts to apartments’ kitchens and bathrooms, new electric and heating systems, increased handicap accessibility in common spaces, and a new security system.
POAH purchased the property from the Young Men’s Christian Association of Metropolitan Chicago in 2019.
The YMCA was looking to sell some of their housing properties, “six of them in particular, a total of 461 units, with the understanding that whoever bought them would maintain them as affordable housing,” said Bill Eager, Senior Vice President of POAH Midwest. “They were well cared for but they certainly were due to be refreshed for another 20, 30 years.”
Groups of residents are relocated into nearby hotels while their apartments are rehabbed. When complete, they return, and another group of residents are relocated so as not to disrupt their lives as much as possible, Eager said, adding renovations began six months ago, but the pandemic delayed the ceremony.
Upgrades are expected to be completed winter of 2023.
The project is funded by POAH, the Illinois Housing Development Authority, and Cook County, which invested $1.5 million in the project and plans to build new housing in Harvey.
Upon assuming her position in 2010, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle studied regional economic development efforts to guide future investments.
“That work tells us that those regions that have the least inequality have the most economic vitality, and unfortunately for Cook County, there’s a lot of inequality,” Preckwinkle said. “The part of the County that’s most challenged is the Southland.”
The County has collaborated with nonprofit business organization Southland Development Authority on development projects, including Metals Hub, a new metals and manufacturing plant in Crestwood designed to grow the south suburban manufacturing sector.
When POAH purchased the building three years ago, some residents were worried that the building would no longer be exclusively senior housing, a common fear when new ownership takes over, said Kisha McCaskill, Executive Director of the Harvey Park District, which facilitates programming for tenants.
“That wasn’t the case with POAH from what I’ve noticed. They truly keep it affordable and for seniors,” McCaskill said.
“What a lot of people don’t think about with seniors is the mental health and physical component of isolation,” McCaskill said, because many seniors live alone. The district holds weekly fitness classes and exposes residents to different food cultures around the suburbs through its ‘Lunch on the Run’ program. “My goal has always been to keep them active four days out of the week.”
But, while residents like Ellis herald life at the YMCA building, it hasn’t always been so fabulous.
Mayor Chris Clark has seen the deteriorating conditions firsthand as mayor—leaking walls, collapsed ceilings, and appliances with overdue maintenance.
“It wasn’t just a simple fact that someone came to me and told me,” Clark said, adding that he toured the building and saw firsthand the need for upkeep.
Clark said he often got complaints about the building’s living conditions as a 3rd Ward alderman, even though the building is nestled in the city’s 2nd Ward.
“Somewhere along the way, people would say ‘he’s an attorney, maybe he can help,’ and they would reach out to me.”
Following a derecho in August 2020 that left the city without power for over a week, the building was one of the last senior complexes to regain power.
“My team went and brought our charging stations—we were charging phones, breathing machines, passing out water—trying to keep residents going while the power was out,” McCaskill said.
The rehab comes amid several other revitalization efforts in downtown Harvey, including Harvey Lofts, a $17 million housing development on Broadway Avenue, part of a new transit-oriented development district.
In March, the City Council approved a new homeownership program from the SDA, an estimated $2.1 million investment.
Metra officials broke ground on a $20 million renovation of the train station at 147th Street and Sibley Boulevard.
POAH also owns the Jesse Jackson Senior Housing complexes on 151st Street near Dixie Highway. POAH owns three properties on the South Side of Chicago in addition to the three in Harvey and is in the process of renovating all of them.
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