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Worth the Wait: Hispanic Housing’s North & Talman

Twelve years.

Seems like a long time to complete an affordable housing project – even one with 110 apartments spanning an entire city block – but consider what else was happening the day Paul Roldan first inspected the vacant buildings on the 2600 block of West North Avenue.

It was September 11, 2001.

Hispanic Housing's Paul Roldan at the North & Talman affordable housing development on West North Avenue.

John McCarron

“We were on the roof of this warehouse, doing a walk-through with the owner’s broker,” remembers Hipolito “Paul” Roldan, president of Hispanic Housing Development Corporation (HHDC.) “I get a call from my assistant, back at the office. She tells me one of the World Trade Center buildings has just ‘come down.’ And I said: ‘What do you mean ‘come down’?” Buildings like that don’t just ‘come down.’”

Then again, we’ve all learned a thing or two about how easy it is to destroy buildings and disrupt lives since that terrible morning in 2001. Federal funds that might have gone to strengthen neighborhoods instead were needed to combat terrorism here and abroad. Private funding for housing, meanwhile, took a wrong turn into subprime lending fed by shaky mortgage bonds. Now a nation struggles to recover from a Great Recession … and neighborhoods like Humboldt Park struggle to replace hundreds of dwellings lost to foreclosure and abandonment.

So Roldan is not complaining about how long it took to complete all three phases of HHDC’s North & Talman development. Nor is LISC Chicago, which stood behind the $40 million project every step of the way, from a pre-development line-of-credit to a “bridge” loan that soon will be repaid from property tax increment (TIF) proceeds.

The LISC network

This is how LISC works, not by acting unilaterally, but by enabling capable local partners like Hispanic Housing to tap into the expertise and wherewithal of other partners in its broad network. In this case, the key players were the City of Chicago, the State of Illinois, the Federal Home Loan Bank, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Fannie Mae, MB Financial Bank, and Allstate Insurance (whose flexible, low-interest financing made the $2 million bridge loan possible). The development also spanned the tenures of three separate aldermen - Manny Flores, Billy Ocasio, and Proco Joe Moreno.

Hispanic Housing is one of the most capable and prolific partners in LISC Chicago's neighborhood network. Since its founding in 1975, HHDC has developed more than 3,600 units of rental and for-sale housing and manages another 1,250 units for the Chicago Housing Authority. 

As with all LISC-aided projects, there was strategic intent behind North & Talman. The goal was to fill-in some of the “missing teeth” along a tired stretch of North Avenue between gentrified West Town and the verdant expanse of Humboldt Park, with its namesake neighborhood to the west.

Not that North & Talman is about gentrification. To the contrary, all 110 apartments are locked permanently into affordable rents for families earning from 15 to 80 percent of the area’s median income. Qualifying seniors, for instance, are paying $500 to $600 monthly for units that would command $1,400 at market rate.

So a senior like Sabina Sanchez, and her husband of 45 years, Luis, were recently able to move out of cramped, over-priced housing and into a gleaming, sunlit one-bedroom unit at North & Talman Phase II.

“Here I’ve got everything,” she said to a visitor, ticking off the advantages: shopping at Cermak Produce across the street; walking to big park just two blocks away; and, not to be overlooked, washing clothes in the comfort and security of  the building’s first-floor laundry room … just down the corridor from the well-equipped exercise room.

Green re-use

But it’s the entire neighborhood that benefits, as will be manifest soon when Hispanic  formally dedicates the project’s third and final phase – a 5-story, 27-unit family building flanked by three new two-flats along the Washtenaw Avenue end of the block.

Architects Weese Langley Weese redesigned the warehouses on North Avenue and designed new structures to replace wood frame houses.

Gordon Walek

Some recent history:  The first phase reclaimed a vacant furniture store located mid-block. Architects Weese Langley Weese found a way to save and restore the ornate terra cotta façade of the old Rusnak Brothers Furniture emporium while selectively demolishing parts of the store’s sprawling interior to make room for sunlit bays and tenant parking. Phase II involved replacement of abandoned balloon-frame houses at the block’s east end with Ms. Sanchez’ “got everything” five-story for seniors.

But it was the Phase III building on the other corner that proved the biggest challenge. It required the near-complete rebuild of a steel-framed warehouse – the one where Paul Roldan got the news about Sept. 11.

“This was a three-dimensional puzzle,” said Mark Kruse, Hispanic Housing’s vice-president for development. The warehouse’s steel frame was re-usable … but not its 18-foot ceiling heights. So workers had to peel off the exterior walls, re-brace the steel frame, weld new floor beams at the desired heights, then raise new exterior walls to bind it all together while providing for ample window openings.

It helped that Hispanic Housing used its own subsidiary general contractor, Tropic Construction Company, enabling it not only to smooth over the inevitable delays and budget bumps, but to employ a goodly number of local tradesmen and laborers. And do it all with sustainability in mind.

Details on the 2654 buildling.

Gordon Walek

“Saving these buildings is the green way to go,” Kruse said. “You get into these old ones. You see the quality of materials that were used. Sending it off to a landfill, that’s a huge waste of energy.”

Issues solved

Many other issues were raised and resolved during North & Talman’s 12-year gestation. There were political objections to “too much” subsidized housing; contentious community meetings where some decried the “loss” of retail; holdups in city acquisition of the derelict balloon-frames; vaulted sidewalks that had to be filled-in and re-poured; not to mention the aftershocks of 9/11 followed by the credit market meltdown triggered by the subprime fiasco. Yet at the end of the day, North & Talman got done … and done well.

“Hispanic Housing? They’re great,” said Barbara Beck, LISC Chicago’s director of financial services and underwriting. “Their tenacity and ability to stick with it, despite all the hurdles, is exactly what it takes in this market and in these times.”

“It was a decade-long fight,” added Paul Roldan. “But many generations of people are going to be able to live there, decently and affordably, long after we’ve forgotten what we were bitching and moaning about.”

More information:

Paul Roldan, HHDC, 312-602-6500
Barbara Beck, LISC Chicago, 312-422-9553,

Donor Profile

LISC’s involvement in the North & Talman development would not have been possible without the financial support of Allstate Insurance Company, a long-time LISC funder. The $2 million bridge loan was drawn from a $10 million, 10-year low interest loan that Allstate made to LISC Chicago and other LISC offices in cities throughout the Midwest.

The loan is one of several ways in which Allstate supports LISC Chicago. Another example is a $250,000 grant the company made to support the recently-launched Neighborhood Safety Initiative (NSI), through which LISC Chicago and its neighborhood partners will develop an all-in, all-at-once approach to reducing violent crime, hoping to turn the tide in North Lawndale and South Chicago. NSI will activate multiple networks – everything from block clubs and job counselors, to Chicago Police Department bike cops and City of Chicago departments – to change the culture in those neighborhoods.

Allstate contributes in other ways, too. For many years, it has been among the lead sponsors of the Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards, LISC’s  20-year-old ceremony that celebrates and recognizes outstanding achievement in neighborhood development and community building.

Just as important, Allstate understands and supports the value of sharing its human capital with the organizations it helps fund. Mary Pat McKeown, Allstate’s Portfolio Manager, Private Asset Investment Group, is an active member of LISC Chicago’s board of advisors.


Posted in Housing, Lending, Humboldt Park


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