Chicago, Illinois: Art, Housing, and Revitalization in the Greater Grand Crossing Neighborhood

By HUD | | September 27, 2016

Dorchester Post

The Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative (DA + HC) is an art-centered residential community of 32 two-story townhouses in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood in Chicago’s South Side. The new community, a rehabilitation of an abandoned public housing development, was the creation of an unusual partnership among a local artist, a development company, an architect, and the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA). Initiated and led by local conceptual artist Theaster Gates, the partnership demonstrates both the possibility and pragmatism of rehabilitating neighborhoods through arts programming. DA + HC received the 2016 American Institute of Architects/HUD Secretary’s Award for Housing and Community Design in the Creating Community Connections category to recognize the development’s contribution toward revitalizing Greater Grand Crossing.

New Life for Abandoned Buildings
In 2011, Gates approached CHA with a proposal to rehabilitate the five buildings that once housed the Dante Harper Townhomes, a public housing development that fell into disrepair and was abandoned in 2007 when gang violence and drug use overtook the neighborhood. Gates sees life in abandoned buildings but believes that developing housing is not enough to rehabilitate a neighborhood. Gates believes that art and culture are key to creating community. To realize this vision, the Rebuild Foundation, a nonprofit started by Gates to revitalize communities through resident engagement with culture and art, teamed up with Brinshore Development, which follows green building practices, and Landon Bone Baker Architects, which seeks to design housing that is affordable and architecturally significant. The combination of new physical spaces enlivened by art and culture has made DA + HC a thriving community shared by residents and neighbors since its opening in 2014.

DA + HC contains 32 units in 5 two-story brick buildings. CHA residents occupy 12 townhouses, subsidies permit affordable rents for 11 apartments, and 9 units rent at market rates. Residents live in two- or three-bedroom apartments that feature open floorplans; central air conditioning; energy-efficient dishwashers, washers, and dryers; and individual outdoor spaces. DA + HC’s occupancy criteria call for artists to occupy several apartments, which can be either affordable or market-rate units depending on household income. As part of their rental agreements, the artists must provide some form of art programming to the community.

The Art Center
Constructed in a central location where four of the original townhomes once stood and spanning 2,200 square feet, the Art Center is the heart of DA + HC. The Art Center features a spring-loaded dance floor; a specially padded acoustic ceiling; and a workshop area where residents, artists, and community members gather to perform, share ideas, troubleshoot projects, and use a variety of available tools. Artists in residence and other local artisans regularly offer workshops on videography, painting, ceramics, and other topics. The Rebuild Foundation schedules events and spaces, which also include yoga and mindfulness classes, summer workshops for children, and live performances.

In addition to weekly and monthly event offerings, Family Band, a local music ensemble, practices and performs at the Art Center, and artists — including residents of both DA + HC and the neighborhood — can use studio space. An upcoming exhibit that the Rebuild Foundation has been working on will be an interactive video game created by a partnership between the Video Game Art Gallery and artist Phillip Mallory Jones; residents and visitors will be able to take part in a simulated journey through historical Chicago.

Making it Work
DA + HC is not the first housing development in the country that features art or artists, but it is the first mixed-income public housing redevelopment with an arts center and a preference for artist-residents. This unique approach has proven to be a sustainable model for art-centered, mixed-income housing. Funding for the development of DA + HC includes low-income housing tax credits (table 1). The other major funding source was CHA’s Homeownership Opportunity for People Everywhere (HOPE) VI program.

TABLE 1 Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative Financing
Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Equity $7,308,000
CHA Loan (Hope VI) $3,550,000
First Mortgage (JP Morgan Chase) $275,000
Affordable Housing Program Grant (FHLBC) $184,000
Other Sources $483,000
Total $11,800,000

Art at the Heart
By providing updated affordable housing and establishing the Art Center as a cultural hub in the neighborhood, DA + HC has become a significant addition to Greater Grand Crossing. The development has not only become an integral part of the community but has also helped revitalize it. Nearby properties that had fallen into disrepair are being refurbished for sale or rental, the Chicago Park District is renovating the public park across the street from DA + HC, and the local market is strong for building sales. Theaster Gates’s art career has taken his work into museums across the globe — most recently in Milan and Ontario — but he continues to live in Greater Grand Crossing, where he and the Rebuild Foundation are continuing to use arts and culture to revitalize the neighborhood.

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