New affordable housing opens in Pilsen

Casa Durango hopes to eventually house 53 families at two locations, part of an effort to stem gentrification in the area.

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Ricarda Pedraza is shown in her living room at Casa Durango in the Pilsen.

Ricarda Pedraza with a shelf full of family photos in her living room at The Resurrection Project’s new Casa Durango in the Pilsen neighborhood.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Years after being forced out of Pilsen by rising rent, Ricarda Pedraza returned to the area this month and finally felt at home again.

The mother of two moved her family to Brighton Park for five years, putting the Chicago River between them and the neighborhood where Pedraza had lived since she was 12 years old.

“It was a struggle,” said Pedraza, 40. “I have a boy who’s autistic, and we had to put him in a different school.”

And her daughter’s grades “really dropped,” she added.

Now, the family is back — thanks to Casa Durango, an affordable housing development from the Resurrection Project that promises to be the latest stand against gentrification of the neighborhood.

“Things are getting harder, the basic cost of living has risen, and having an affordable house helps get rid of that stress. There’s a harmony you feel coming home,” Pedraza said.

Groundbreaking for the project was in September 2021, and it opened this month. There are 53 units at two buildings — one at 19th Street and Racine Avenue, the other at 21st Street and Ashland Avenue.

The Resurrection group celebrated Tuesday at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Racine building. Pedraza spoke, as did city and state officials.

The development is the latest effort from the group to create affordable housing on the Southwest Side. Formed by Pilsen residents in 1990, the Resurrection Project has helped numerous families throughout Pilsen, Little Village and Back of the Yards find housing, including at several similar “Casa” apartment buildings. 

The Durango development, like the others, is named after a Mexican state. Durango, in northwestern Mexico, is where many nearby residents immigrated from. The multimillion dollar development was funded in part by the state, a $5 million city loan and through tax credits for low-income housing. 

The Racine building has 13 one-bedroom, 16 two-bedroom and eight three-bedroom apartments. The Ashland building has eight one-bedroom, six two-bedroom and two three-bedroom apartments.

Apartments are open to families making 30% to 60% of the area median income, or between $27,950 and $55,920 for a family of four, according to a news release. 

Also, 14 of the units will be available for families using Chicago Housing Authority vouchers.

Among the officials who spoke Tuesday were Chicago Housing Department Commissioner Marisa Novara; Chicago Housing Authority CEO Tracey Scott; 25th Ward Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez; and mayoral challenger U.S. Rep. Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia, who is from Durango.

Casa Durango tenants Ricarda Pedraza (in gray), Margarita Gonzalez (in pink) hug during the ribbon-cutting ceremony at The Resurrection Project’s new Casa Durango in the Pilsen neighborhood on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023.

Casa Durango tenants Ricarda Pedraza (in gray), Margarita Gonzalez (in pink) hug during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Casa Durango affordable housing development in Pilsen Tuesday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Guacolda Reyes, chief real estate development officer for Resurrection, spoke after Pedraza. 

“Regardless of income level, these families have earned the right to decent, safe, affordable housing,” she said.

A longtime resident of Pilsen, Reyes said the neighborhood had seen significant displacement In recent decades and expected that number to potentially grow with the recent property tax hike.

“Because renters continue to be displaced, we need to continue to provide affordable housing,” she said.

Sigcho-Lopez, whose ward encompasses parts of the neighborhood, lauded the development for being an affordable housing development that’s “actually accessible” for residents, including seniors. 

“We have a housing development here that has income levels accessible for all the community,” he said.

Margarita Gonzalez, a tenant at the new Casa Durango affordable housing development in Pilsen, speaks to a reporter in her living room Tuesday.

Margarita Gonzalez, a tenant at the new Casa Durango affordable housing development in Pilsen, speaks to a reporter in her living room Tuesday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Margarita Gonzalez, a senior and new resident of the building was also on hand for the ceremony.

The longtime Pilsen resident moved to the building from 18th Street, a move which she said wasn’t far, but necessary.

“There’s security, there’s love, there’s the interest from the staff that the people here live well and are comfortable,” said Gonzalez, 76.

Standing inside her one-bedroom apartment above the ground floor, Gonzalez gestured at the light streaming in through the window that lit up her collection of archeological mementos from Mexico

“This is why I’m happy. I have so much light, so much ventilation,” she said.

Even outside her apartment, the native of Mexico City said that by remaining in Pilsen she never felt far from home.

“It’s a neighborhood of tradition, where the people speak Spanish and you feel like you’re in Mexico,” she said.

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

The home of tenant Margarita Gonzalez at The Resurrection Project’s new Casa Durango in the Pilsen neighborhood.

Items displayed in the home of Margarita Gonzalez at Casa Durango in Pilsen.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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