Daily file photo by Jacob Wendler
City Council voted 6-1 to approve a $3 million allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funding to support the renovation of The McGaw YMCA’s Men’s Residence on Monday.
“Our goal is to continue to support a key constituency of our residents in our city as we have done for 137 years,” McGaw YMCA Board Chair Janine Hill said. “We take our role in providing one of the most basic rights — the right to have affordable, safe housing — very seriously.”
The nonprofit organization, which also offers gym facilities and wellness programs, houses more than 100 residents in its 92-year-old building on Grove St. One of the few remaining single-room occupancy options in the Chicago area, the McGaw YMCA program provides accessible housing for men ages 18 and older.
While the McGaw YMCA was already planning a renovation, Housing & Grants Manager Sarah Flax said in a city memorandum that the COVID-19 pandemic made the project more urgent because it showed the need for space that allows social distancing and isolation.
The renovation includes adding a separate entrance for residents on Maple Ave. so they don’t have to go through the YMCA’s main entrance with visitors. Flax said this would increase privacy and also help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Flax added the project requires significant amounts of money to relocate residents while renovation is underway — something all federally funded projects require.
Hill said the structure of the residence itself will also change to reflect COVID-19’s impact.
“Our renovation allows for private showers, private changing rooms (and) new efficiency units, which we have learned in the midst of a pandemic are quite important not only for emergency housing but also for unexpected medical circumstances,” she said.
Flax said these adjustments make the renovation applicable to ARPA funding, which is narrowly focused on addressing the pandemic’s community impacts.
Ald. Thomas Suffredin (6th), the sole dissenter in the council’s final vote, raised concerns that $3 million is a large chunk of expenses for a $12 million project. He emphasized that the $43 million the city received in ARPA funding is a finite financial resource.
“I’m concerned that we didn’t really analyze it. We just took the number they gave us and we ran with it,” he said. “I wish a lot of great success, but I think we really need to be very careful with how we’re spending public money at the rate we’re spending it.”
Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) responded that the Housing & Community Development Committee processed the McGaw YMCA’s request thoroughly. She said the project asked for less than 25% of its total budget, meeting the criteria city staff used to evaluate other ARPA projects like Northlight Theatre and The AUX.
According to Flax, being a single-occupancy facility — which makes the renovation eligible for ARPA funding — limits funding sources and excludes projects from low-income housing tax credit eligibility.
Flax acknowledged that several other projects requesting ARPA funding are coming down the pipeline. She said Family Focus has requested $3 million.
Though Ald. Devon Reid (8th) supported the allocation, he echoed Suffredin’s concerns and said he isn’t yet happy with the city’s ARPA allocations.
“I do not feel yet like we’ve really spent money on people and entities that were directly impacted by COVID,” Reid said. “We’ve done an awful lot of nice projects, Northlight and other things, but I don’t feel like we’ve gotten to the heart of it yet.”
Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) pushed back, echoing ongoing divides in the ARPA allocation philosophy. He said previous City Council discussions emphasized focusing on investments that have larger impacts than on the individual level.
Sue Calder, a 4th ward resident on the President’s Leadership Council at the McGaw YMCA, spoke to the community impacts of the residence program.
“Some (residents) are there for just a brief stay when they’re going from one place to another and others stay for 20 to 30 years. Some put the YMCA in their wills, in fact. It is their home,” she said. “Like many homes, it’s been repainted … but now’s the time for renovation.”
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