Intergenerational housing in Washington Park could be a model across the city
Abrams Intergenerational Village would be located in the 5300 block of South Calumet Avenue across the street from The Renaissance Collaborative’s existing senior village building, which currently rents to low-income seniors.
Two senior housing advocacy groups are joining forces in the hope of establishing a new model of senior housing that could be replicated throughout the city’s most vulnerable communities.
The $33 million development by The Renaissance Collaborative and Housing Opportunities and Maintenance for the Elderly (H.O.M.E.) aims to bring an affordable, six-story, 71-unit apartment building to Washington Park that would be built on three longtime vacant lots.
The development would bring a model of “intergenerational housing” —a concept rooted in the belief that seniors shouldn’t be put out to pasture to live separately from younger generations, the organizations said.
Gail Schechter, executive director of HOME, said people of all ages should be able to live communally and benefit from each other’s lived experiences.
“We have to answer an important question, and it is why do we create any kind of segregated housing?” Schechter said. “Unfortunately, seniors — especially low-income seniors — tend to be pushed into these institutional environments all by themselves and are often forgotten about.”
The Abrams Intergenerational Village would be located in the 5300 block of South Calumet Avenue across the street from The Renaissance Collaborative’s existing senior village building, which rents to low-income seniors.
Pat Abrams, executive director of The Renaissance Collaborative, said she has fought for nearly two decades to support housing for multi-generational families, specifically households where grandparents are raising grandchildren.
Abrams said she envisions the block and the new housing development as being a community of grandparents, grandchildren and independent seniors that can grow together in a thriving and safe environment.
“Most people in Chicago are living in an intergenerational housing setting, meaning we are already living in an integrated housing model,” Abrams said. “Just the way we approach housing hasn’t met the demand and need out there.”
The Illinois Department of Aging estimates there are more than 220,000 children under the age of 18 living in grandparent-headed households in the state. Over 100,000 grandparents care for their grandchildren, the department said.
The new development envisions space for 12 low-income seniors to live on a dedicated floor. Each senior would live in their own studio apartment, with shared spaces for communal dining and activities.
The building will also look to help six college students between 18 and 24 years old who are experiencing homelessness and give them a studio apartment. In return, those students would provide “light assistance” to the seniors.
“Our model is communal living where about 12 seniors share meals and activities together,” Gail said. “They will eat together, live together and even have young adults living and working in the building, too.”
Another 21 apartments will be set aside for “grandfamilies,” in which grandparents, aged 55 and older, are raising their grandchildren. They would be scattered throughout the building in two- and three-bedroom apartments.
The rest of the units would provide housing for 32 seniors to live in private studio or two-bedroom apartments.
A community room is planned for the ground floor, which would also feature an easily accessible garden and play areas. A fitness area, library and computer room would also be available to everyone, and there would be an on-site social worker to provide services to children and seniors.
Moody Nolan, one of the nation’s largest Black-owned architecture firms, was enlisted to design Abrams Intergenerational Village. It will be majority owned by the The Renaissance Collaborative, and HOME will have some co-ownership powers.
The project is still searching for full funding from the state and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but both groups are confident it will be approved sometime this year.
“I really have been struck by this whole journey since the need for this model is very visible, but there is a silo for funding which continues the same cycle,” Abrams said.
Schechter said the funding and finance system hasn’t kept pace with societal changes to how households look in today’s society.
“They understand that there is a need for senior housing or affordable housing but not projects that try to do both,” Schechter said. “They don’t understand multi-generational housing and how communal living is so important.”