The Chicago Housing Authority undertook the development of mixed-income housing co-located with public libraries for three communities in Chicago, to benefit and strengthen each of the communities and provide public spaces for all.
Two of the developments each provide 30 public housing units, 14 affordable units and a public library. The other development will include 73 mixed-income units with library facilities. All of the units are designated as affordable, and tenants who qualify have incomes below 60% of the area's median income.
The local government received requests for more libraries and community spaces, however, there was little to no funding available for the projects.
Libraries are struggling to meet demand when they are small, outdated, and in need of repair, and often face financial challenges in meeting the growing demand. High land values and construction costs in many cities make such projects increasingly costly and they frequently require special tax levies or capital campaigns.
Combining a new public library with affordable senior housing improves the value proposition of both projects as construction costs can be shared between levels of government. The library could not have been built on its own.
Cities seeking new solutions to the affordable housing crisis are eyeing desirable real estate: the air space above the typically low-lying public libraries. Combining uses makes it possible to invest public dollars and leverage additional funds for projects that serve the community in multiple ways.
Each project will have different funding packages made up of several components that include Chicago Housing Authority funds, tax-exempt bonds, City of Chicago tax-increment financing, 4% and 9% low-income housing tax credits, and donations tax credits.
Chicago Housing Authority
Chicago Public Library
City of Chicago
Department of Planning and Development
Illinois Housing Development Authority
United States Department of Housing and Urban Development
September 2017 – City approval finalised
Late 2017 – Construction commenced
Early 2019 – Construction finished
Results / impact
Mixed-use projects often take more time to deliver than conventional projects, which meant the project was under time pressure from the start due to requirements to change existing zoning and foster collaboration between different parties and developers.
Combining the proposed libraries with public housing freed up funding from state and federal sources, including the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Placing new libraries in communities with an old or insufficient library infrastructure offered a clear community benefit. The benefit allowed the projects to garner widespread community support that is often hard for standalone housing projects to achieve.
Key lessons learnt
Large-scale changes in the economy are leading to new models of mixed-use development, with social infrastructure beginning to anchor these developments more than in the past – a trend that could present significant opportunities for senior living and affordable housing in the years to come.
Most libraries realise their value in how they integrate and respond to the community. In tight real estate markets, libraries can leverage their physical land assets to increase their value proposition to the community.
Moving away from single-use zoning and to mixed uses, gives disadvantaged communities the ability to harness investment to achieve their economic, social, and environmental priorities. Mixed-use generally reflects a broader move away from a more single-use, suburban model and into a model more suited for dense urban environments.
Providing housing and other opportunities enhances the lives of residents while helping to build strong, vibrant neighbourhoods.