Using P3s to create affordable housing, public services

How the city of Chicago and nonprofit groups partnered to build three libraries plus affordable housing in underserved neighborhoods.

August 06, 2019 |
Rob Cassidy
Independence Library and Apartments, a hybrid library and affordable housing development in Chicago. Designed by John Ronan Architects

Independence Library and Apartments, a hybrid library and affordable housing development in Chicago. Designed by John Ronan Architects

Check out this excellent article (July 28, 2019) from the Chicago Tribune’s Darcell Rockett:

It details how the city of Chicago and nonprofit groups partnered to build three libraries plus affordable housing in underserved neighborhoods.

It’s a great example of “P3,” or public-private partnerships, and the best use of precious city land. Not only do residents get an excellent place to live at reasonable cost, they can stroll downstairs and get a book or a DVD, take part in the libraries’ public programs, or just hang out.

I’m particularly fond of the new Independence branch of the CPL, designed by the eminent Chicago architect John Ronan (who also designed the magnificent Poetry Center—check it out next time you’re in Chicago). Independence replaced a branch that was—I hate to say this, but it’s true—mercifully destroyed in a fire a few years ago. It was, as Bette Davis would say, a dump, and now has risen from the ashes.

We’ve written about other local governments following this model (see “Concentrated redevelopment: Apartment complex takes mixed-use to the next level”).

San Bernardino County, Calif., worked with Related California (developer) and Withee Malcolm (architect) on a mixed-use collaboration to build a beautiful library and multigenerational affordable housing in a previously neglected neighborhood of the county. It’s all part of San Bernardino’s strategic plan to encourage economic development in the huge county’s unincorporated areas, which have traditionally been slighted when it comes to public funding.

But why stop at “library-housing P3s”? What about co-developing public schools and affordable housing in a new kind of mixed use? Such a P3 could give priority for housing to young, underpaid teachers and other public servants—police, fire fighters, city workers. See my editorial supporting this concept (“Put air rights to better use”), based on the work of C. Kat Grimsley, PhD, who directs the master’s in real estate program at George Mason University.

Civic governments everywhere are strapped for funding. Leveraging development dollars from the private sector in public-private partnerships provides a solution where everyone wins, most notably the tenants and the public.

Are you using P3s in imaginative ways? I’d love to hear from you: rcassidy@sgcmail.com

Rob Cassidy |

Robert Cassidy is Executive Editor of Building Design+Construction and the Editor of Multifamily Design+Construction. A city planner, he is the author of several books, including “Livable Cities,” and was a co-founder of the Friends of the Chicago River.

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