Senior housing project at former Ravenswood Hospital blocked unless state rules change
By Robert Channick Reporter Chicago Tribune
Artistic Rendering of Building supplied by: Worn Jerabek Wiltse Architects, P.C.
A proposed $60 million affordable housing redevelopment for seniors at the former Ravenswood Hospital site is on life support pending legislation that would allow separate supportive and independent living facilities under the same roof. The plan, which would turn a vacant 10-story high-rise into 193 units of mixed-use senior housing, was shot down in November by the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.
Current state rules require supportive living facilities be exclusive to that use. “This is housing that’s needed,” said Jeff Rappin, chairman of Evergreen Real Estate Group, a Chicago-based affordable housing developer. “We’re not building a 400-unit high-rise for yuppies. This is 193 units of housing for seniors who absolutely need it.”
Evergreen has a license to build a supportive living facility 1.5 miles from the site of the former Ravenswood Hospital, which was shuttered in 2002. That site didn’t pan out, and when the 150,000-square-foot high-rise at 4501 N. Winchester Ave. became available, Rappin said it was a “no-brainer” to move the project there. Rappin entered into a $9 million purchase agreement for the building and reworked the plans, which include 119 supportive living apartments on the first four floors, and 74 one-bedroom independent living units on the upper floors. The facilities would have separate side-by-side entrances.
The Chicago Housing Authority committed $24 million for the independent living portion of the project, with funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“This is an innovative project that CHA is excited about because it provides the opportunity for 74 independent living units in a strong North Side neighborhood, a priority of the agency,” CHA spokesman Matthew Aguilar said in an email Thursday. The balance of the $60 million project is funded through equity and debt, using low-income housing tax credits, Rappin said.
Evergreen submitted an application to move the facility to the Ravenswood site in 2016. While the neighborhood has been supportive of the adaptive reuse of the high-rise, which has fallen into disrepair, the state balked at the mixed-use proposal in November.
Supportive living facilities are licensed by Healthcare and Family Services as an alternative to nursing home care for low-income seniors under Medicaid. Under state rules, such a facility must be exclusively devoted to supportive housing. A department spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. The developers enlisted support to change the rules, with Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, planning to bring House Bill 4223 to the floor in Springfield next week to allow for mixed-use supportive living facilities.
“There are many seniors in Chicago waiting to move into what would assuredly be a beautiful facility but the (Rauner) administration would rather cite outdated administrative rules then attempt to help seniors, and help communities develop,” Feigenholtz said in an email Thursday. “I decided to file HB 4223 as a last resort … to try to protect senior housing before it is too late.”
Rappin said the deal is dead without new legislation, as he is not licensed to redevelop the entire 10-story building for supportive living units. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on the CHA’s support of the independent living portion of the project. “Because of the unpredictable nature of construction costs, there is a time consideration and we are hoping to start construction as soon as possible,” Aguilar said.
Rappin has already sunk more than $1 million into the redevelopment, and he said costs are rising by the day due to ongoing vandalism at the site, which beyond the highly visible graffiti, has “broken down” heating and cooling systems and other building infrastructure.
The bigger cost, he said, will be the loss of affordable housing, which while separate, will allow seniors to eventually move from independent to supportive living at the same address.
“It makes no sense to us whatsoever,” Rappin said. “This housing is so needed.”