Lawndale to get new housing and health care

The Chicago Housing Authority and Sinai Health System are beginning an unuusual partnership to bring jobs, health care and housing to the residents of Lawndale.

A land transfer agreement between CHA and Sinai will create 300 units of mixed-income housing and a new ambulatory care center.

Sinai approached the city and CHA with the idea for the partnership about a year ago, says Jesse Green, director of the project at Sinai. The hospital needed to update and expand its 90-year-old facilities, and staff knew that people in the area really need affordable housing.

"It was land that was across the street, and it was vacant, and frankly, an eyesore in the community," says Green. "We probably have more vacant lots than any other community than the city of Chicago. Housing is a major issue, especially now that a lot of the public housing projects are being torn down."

Bill Little, executive vice president of development at CHA, says in 10 years, the landscape will be quite different.

"You'll see new housing where those vacant lots stood. You'll see a state-of-the-art hospital and ambulatory care center," says Little. "You'll see a revitalizing community."

The project isn't just about building new housing or expanding a hospital, says Little. It's a total community development project designed to bring jobs and affordable housing to Lawndale, and the largest project like this CHA has done to date.

"It's a great opportunity to actually not only bring back housing but also play such a big role in retaining such a significant community asset," says Little.

The deal was approved by the CHA board earlier this week. Sinai will give CHA a parcel of land south of the hospital between 15th Place and California Avenue. It's a small parking lot now, but it will become mixed-income housing overlooking Douglas Park.

In exchange, the city will transfer land to Sinai for a new ambulatory care center and a larger parking lot for hospital patients. The hospital is still working on financing for the center, but hopes to start contruction in the spring of next year. 

Green says the new center is desperately needed in the community. Even though Sinai built a new emergency room five years ago, it's already too small.

Many patients, he says, go to the emergency room when they can't make an appointment to see a doctor because they don't have insurance.

"A lot of individuals use it as our front door," says Green. "We're busting at the seams in our emergency room."

Right now, the hospital's ambulatory care center is in an old resident dormitory, not well-suited for modern health care, says Green. The new facility will accomodate 200,000 patient visits a year -- more than double the old total.

Sinai has also committed to providing at least 30 permanent jobs, in addition to another 50 construction jobs, to CHA residents, says Little.

"It's not just serving CHA residents or CHA mixed-income developments," says Little. "It's serving a very big slice of that community and a very diverse clientele."

Staff Writer Megan Cottrell covers public housing for the Daily News. She can be reached at 773-362-5002, ext. 12, or megan [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.