Plan to turn historic Pilsen church into apartments garners cheers, concerns

An old church in the heart of Pilsen could turn into a new seven-story apartment complex tailored for middle- to low-income residents and families as early as 2021.

The Resurrection Project, a faith-based developer in Pilsen, unveiled its plans to turn St. Vitus into a 54,220 square-foot, 42-unit apartment building at a community meeting on Wednesday.

St. Vitus, opened in 1898, sits at the corner of 18th Place and Paulina Street, half a block from the 18th Street Pink Line “L” stop and across from La Casa, a five-story residence hall for college students owned by The Resurrection Project.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago closed St. Vitus in 1990 and transferred its lien to The Resurrection Project for $10 two years later, according to news accounts at the time. By 1995, the non-profit had turned the church’s parish into a child-care center and made office space out of the rectory. The church space was turned into a site for community gatherings, but a fire in 2000 charred much of its interior and it has remained vacant since.

As proposed at the community meeting at La Casa, 12 of the apartments would be one-bedroom units, 16 would be two-bedroom units and 14 would be three-bedroom units.

All 42 units would be reserved for tenants earning 30 to 60 percent of Chicago’s median household income, or between $18,000 and $59,000 a year. Rents would range from $440 to $1,300, per city and state affordable housing guidelines.

Potential tenants will have to go through The Resurrection Projects’ application process. There are currently 300 people on the waitlist for one of its other 330 affordable units across Pilsen.

The project designs — produced by architecture firm Canopy — retain much of the church’s facade, including its 75-foot circulation tower. The project also includes retail space on the first floor and designated public areas. The child-care center would relocate to an undetermined new location in Pilsen.

The rehab will cost $23 million, paid for through both public and private financing.

“We hope to have the project finished in at least two years,” The Resurrection Project chief executive Raul Raymundo said in an interview.

A rendering of the proposed St. Vitus development. / Provided by The Resurrection Project

St. Vitus opened in 1898 to serve a growing number of Catholic immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe settling in the neighborhood. As Pilsen turned into a Mexican barrio by the 1960s, St. Vitus catered to its new, mostly Spanish-speaking parishioners. 

In 1990, St. Vitus was one of 28 churches and 18 parishes closed by the archdiocese. Its last administrator was the late Rev. Juan Jose Huitrado.

In the three decades since its closure, the Pilsen housing market has undergone a radical shift.

According to a recent analysis of Census data from the University of Chicago, the Hispanic population in Pilsen declined by 13,000 people between 1990 and 2015, coinciding with a drop in the neighborhood’s population from 46,000 to 35,000 in that same period.

Family-occupied households also fell precipitously, going from 75 percent all households in Pilsen in 1990 to an estimated 57 percent in 2015.

Meanwhile, property values in Pilsen skyrocketed: in 2015 the median owner-occupied home was valued at $198,000, up from $76,000 in 1990, while the median monthly rent in the neighborhood went from $575 to $814.

Paired with stagnant wages and rising costs of living, half of all renters and homeowners with a mortgage in Pilsen spent at least 30 percent of their income on housing in 2015, according to the study.

Realtor data obtained by Sun-Times shows rents aren’t getting any cheaper. The median rent for all apartment rental units listed by a real estate agent in Pilsen at the end of November was $1,650.

Veronica Gonzalez, vice president of real estate development at The Resurrection Project, said fears of displacement of long-term residents was the impetus for the St. Vitus development.

“We feel the pressures of rising rents in Pilsen. This is why we’re presenting plans for this development tonight,” she told the crowd.

Pilsen residents attended a meeting on transforming St. Vitus Wednesday. | Carlos Ballesteros/Chicago Sun-Times

Pilsen residents attended a meeting on transforming St. Vitus Wednesday. | Carlos Ballesteros/Chicago Sun-Times

 

Many residents at the meeting received the proposal with open arms, saying it will provide much-needed affordable housing.

“I’m glad The Resurrection Project is in charge of this and not other developers who don’t have the community’s interest in mind,” said one woman during the question and answers portion of the meeting.

But other attendees were less enthusiastic. Maria Munguia, who took catechism classes at St. Vitus and now lives down the block from the church, lamented the closing of the child-care center.

“I have five grandchildren who go there and we don’t know where they’re going to move,” she said.

Munguia also worries her property taxes will rise once the development is finished.

“When they finished La Casa, my taxes went up. And that’s probably going to happen again when this project is done,” she said.

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