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Humboldt Park organizers save hub for Puerto Rican neighbors

Paul Roldán, president and CEO of Hispanic Housing Development Corporation, talks about the importance of preserving Paseo Boricua. | Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

Paul Roldán, president and CEO of Hispanic Housing Development Corporation, talks about the importance of preserving Paseo Boricua. | Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

A Humboldt Park institution has been saved from outside developers.

The Hispanic Housing Development Corporation’s purchase agreement for the Casa Puertorriqueña, a cultural anchor to the Puerto Rican community, was approved in bankruptcy court Thursday. The approved bid is slightly more than $1 million, according to court documents.

The sale of Casa Puertorriqueña was used as a means of settling more than $900,000 in debt that was accrued by the building’s owners, The Puerto Rican Parade Committee — much of the debt stemming from mortgage and tax liens placed on the property.

The site has served as a community center where seniors could receive social services and play dominoes and bingo. Also, youths held quinceañeras and parties there, and the homeless could get meals provided to them.

Many feared the cultural hub they loved would be lost to gentrification because of the rampant luxury development in the neighborhood.

Paul Roldán, president and CEO of Hispanic Housing Development Corporation, said he is hoping the deal can be finalized within 30 days so the group can start planning what to do with the property. He didn’t specify what would be done with the property but hinted at a new multiunit development with affordable housing.

Roldán said the purchasing of the site is vital to the fight against gentrification along Paseo Boricua — the microcosm of the Chicago Puerto Rican community along Division Street between Western Avenue and California Avenue. Casa Puertorriqueña is located at the end of the strip at 1237 N. California Ave.

Community center Casa Puertorriqueña in Humboldt Park | Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

“We are interested in this building because we have an interest in a number of projects along Paseo Boricua and want to anchor the community that is there now and send a message that we are here to stay,” Roldán said.

Community organizers and political leaders celebrated the sale’s approval Thursday afternoon in front of Casa Puertorriqueña.

The Puerto Rican Agenda, a nonprofit group advocating for the Puerto Rican community in Chicago, has been behind the efforts to save the building from outside developers. Charlie Serrano, a co-chair of the organization, said there were few people that believed they could find a way to save it.

“It is critical to have institutions that continue on promoting the culture, the people and the history of the Puerto Rican community in this area,” Serrano said.

Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26) said at least a dozen developers placed a bid on the property when it first moved into bankruptcy court.

“They all wanted this precious piece of land [for] what they thought was going to be high-priced condominiums across the street from this beautiful, second largest park,” Maldonado said. “This park has always been known as ‘Humboldt Park, part of the Puerto Rican community,’ and we are going to make sure it will always be known as ‘Humboldt Park, part of the Puerto Rican community.’”

Ramon Moreno, 64, has lived in Humboldt Park for more than 40 years and said he is relieved the property will be going to a developer that is community oriented.

“I was devastated when I heard the building was being sold without anyone notifying us first,” Moreno said. “This is a community house. This is our community, it is not just a building. It is an icon to us.”

The Puerto Rican Parade Committee has operated out of the 7,000-square-foot Casa Puertorriqueña for years. But Roldán said once the sale is finalized the committee will no longer occupy the space.

The beleaguered organization’s problems have not all been solved as its board members are still being investigated by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office. On Thursday, Eileen Boyce, an AG’s spokesperson, said they are still investigating the organization for potential violations of Illinois Charitable Organization Laws.

Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.