Pilsen college dorm filled a need, and we hope to see a similar concept again

After a seven-year run, the La Casa dorm closed its doors for good at the end of the semester last spring.

SHARE Pilsen college dorm filled a need, and we hope to see a similar concept again
La Casa, 1815 S. Paulina Street, as seen from the north side of 18th Street.

La Casa, 1815 S. Paulina Street, as seen from the north side of 18th Street.

Carlos Ballesteros/Sun-Times

At a time when obtaining a college education can be difficult, we are sorry to see a dormitory right in the middle of an immigrant neighborhood close its doors.

The La Casa dorm, designed for low-income students who attend nearby institutions of higher education, was a promising idea. Students who had long commutes to class or who found it difficult to study in a home crowded with siblings could get a room near a Pink Line stop that put them within minutes of major Chicago colleges and universities.

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Editorials

Built in part with an $8.4 million state grant and $1 million in donations, La Casa fulfilled the concept of a dorm — a place to get some shuteye without wasting precious time shuttling to and from campus. It was a good option for students who couldn’t necessarily afford a dorm right on campus.

But after a seven-year run, the dorm closed its doors for good at the end of the semester last spring. The nonprofit organization that ran it, The Resurrection Project, said it was losing too much money. We hope it can be turned into some form of affordable housing in the future.

The concentration of downtown colleges and universities, including the University of Illinois at Chicago, Columbia College Chicago, Richard J. Daley College, Roosevelt University, DePaul University, Robert Morris College, Chicago State University and others, creates a need for affordable student housing. At La Casa, students paid $6,255 per academic year for a bed, which, as Carlos Ballesteros reported in Friday’s Chicago Sun-Times, is cheaper than many dorms in the city.

The idea was similar to one that led Columbia College Chicago, DePaul University and Roosevelt University to build a joint dorm at 525 S. State in 2004.

But as time went on, La Casa had trouble finding enough students to fill its 100 beds, and the financial numbers just didn’t add up. The demand, that is to say, just wasn’t sufficient, which is a matter of market reality, not a matter of blame.

But, all the same, that’s unfortunate for the students for whom the concept worked and who were left searching for alternative housing.

Some dormitories at colleges and universities in the region are now built as public-private partnerships, in which developers put up the buildings in cooperation with an institution of higher education.

That La Casa didn’t succeed with a different model doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good idea, and we hope the concept will be tweaked and tried again.

Because it can be pretty tough to study at home in the bathroom, at 2 a.m., to get some quiet while brothers and sisters sleep.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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