Access to quality affordable housing is an integral component of strong communities, as is a vibrant arts scene that enriches the lives of residents and contributes to the economic well-being of the community as a whole. In Oak Park, IL, a newly opened mixed-use development is meeting both needs while revitalizing a long vacant corner lot that serves as the gateway to a key business district in the suburb eight miles west of downtown Chicago.
The 801 in Motion
To see more of The 801 after finishing the photo tour and to meet some of the people responsible for its development, check out this short video about the facility.
Developed by The Community Builders (TCB), The 801 is a four-story, 12,500-square-foot transit-oriented development designed to increase the supply of affordable housing in the community for individuals and families who would otherwise be priced out of Oak Park amid rising costs and high demand for limited rental housing units.
The 801 includes 35 affordable apartments, ground floor retail space, and two live/work units that offer a storefront workspace and attached living quarters – one of which is income-restricted and set aside for a local artist to provide an affordable place to live, work, and display their art in a highly visible location in the neighborhood.
IFF closed two loans in 2018 to help finance the $15 million Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) project, providing $1.9 million in flexible capital to TCB that enabled the organization to successfully navigate a complex development process that included a variety of stakeholders. Additional funding and financing for the project was provided by Bank of America, the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA), the Village of Oak Park, and TCB. The 801 was designed by MBE-certified DesignBridge and built by Joseph J. Duffy Co., opening to residents for the first time in August 2021.
Keep scrolling to take a photo tour of The 801 and learn more about how it’s meeting the needs of residents while strengthening the community.
A commuter’s dream
The Community Builders’ project team was intent on providing residents with quality affordable homes in an amenity-rich neighborhood, and, as a workforce affordable housing development, easy access to public transportation for commuting was a must-have.
That’s part of the reason The 801 ended up where it did – just one block away from the Chicago Transit Authority’s Blue Line train, which runs 24 hours a day and transports commuters to and from downtown Chicago in about 30 minutes. Beyond the Blue Line, The 801 is a block away from a major bus line and within walking distance of several other public transportation options that connect residents with the entire metropolitan area.
Reclaiming a vacant lot to create a community asset
The development of The 801 helped the Village of Oak Park address a long-term need for transit-oriented affordable housing that will help maintain a vibrant, mixed-income community, but the project also met a more immediate need in the neighborhood where it’s located. For years, the site was a fenced off gravel lot that actively detracted from an otherwise bustling local business district.
With The 801 now anchoring the north end of the block, there’s an attractive gateway to the business district that helps draw shoppers to a variety of local businesses. And, by bringing new residents to the neighborhood, The 801 is also expanding the customer base for each of those small businesses around it – creating a virtuous cycle of community development.
“The 801 is in an important location for the neighborhood, and replacing a vacant lot with a mixed-used development is strengthening the area for the businesses located around it, pedestrians, and everyone else who spends time on the block,” says TCB Regional Vice President for Real Estate Development Will Woodley. “It’s a powerful example of what affordable housing can do for a community.”
A flexible venue for small business
The corner of The 801’s ground floor includes an 865-square-foot space for a retail tenant, which, once occupied, will create another amenity for residents and complement existing small businesses in the immediate area. Laid out to be as flexible as possible for future tenants, the retail space includes an outdoor seating area that would make it an especially desirable location for a café or other dining option.
A permanent home for the arts
The 801’s live/work units are among the most unique features of the development, providing small business owners with a quality retail space in a location with heavy foot traffic that enables them to seamlessly transition between relaxing at home and growing their business. One of the live/work units is available at market rate, but the other is designed to provide a local artist with an affordable home and studio.
“There’s a lot of potential in using tax credits to create live/work units with artist preferences,” says Woodley. “In addition to an affordable apartment, these units provide commercial space for residents to grow their businesses, which in turn helps activate corridors in need of economic growth. It’s a model that can be successful in many different types of neighborhoods.”
The first tenant in the artist’s live/work unit at The 801 is Nez (@studio__nez), a Latina artist who specializes in paintings, murals, and illustrations. After moving into the affordable live/work unit The 801 last Fall, she opened Studio Nez, where she displays her work, sells merchandise, and hosts shows to support other local artists.
“I’m not exaggerating when I say that the artist live/work space has been nothing short of a life-changer for me,” says Nez. “It has allowed me to expand my small online art business into a brick-and-mortar setting, which has created a community within the community. The space has become a small social gathering spot for gallery shows, art talks and panels, art classes and workshops, and much more. The 801 has been a turning point for me, and I’m very fortunate to also call it my home.”
Quality affordable homes for a wide range of residents
Beyond the live/work units, The 801 includes three studio apartments (435 square feet), 30 one-bedroom apartments (535-575 square feet), and two two-bedroom apartments (865 square feet) for residents earning up to 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI).
With on-site education, health care, and employment support available to residents, The 801 is meant to strengthen residents’ economic outlook, and residents can remain in their homes until their incomes exceed 140% AMI. Because housing affordability is a challenge in Oak Park, about half of The 801’s apartments have a residency preference for Oak Parkers, meaning that someone moving in would need to either already live in Oak Park or work in the community.
All of the apartments are designed for contemporary open plan living and include high-speed internet connectivity, in-unit washers and dryers, Energy Star dishwashers, microwaves, and tenant-controlled heating and cooling. The 801 makes extensive use of low-energy LED lighting and is designed to maximize natural light to reduce energy consumption.
Amenities and more
Residents at The 801 have access to a variety of amenities outside of their apartments, including a secure package delivery system in the lobby, on-site parking and indoor bicycle storage, and a top-floor multipurpose room and outdoor gathering space for social events that overlooks the neighborhood.
“Developing mixed-use, mixed-income projects like The 801 is really hard, but this was a particularly satisfying development for our team to deliver,” says Woodley. “The 801 is a thoughtful building that checks a lot of boxes for the community and for residents.”
To take a photo tour of another affordable housing project developed using an IFF loan, click here. Learn more about our lending to nonprofits like The Community Builders by visiting our Capital Solutions page.