JCUA to Invest in The Rosenwald; Will Help Revitalize Bronzeville

By Jonathan Lehrer
Communications Consultant to JCUA 

With the aim of helping to revitalize the Bronzeville neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, The Jewish Council on Urban Affairs is investing in a housing development that has Jewish roots.

Through its Community Ventures Program, JCUA is making a$100,000 zero-interest loan to Rosenwald Courts, a $110 million renovation project that will create 331 new units of housing, with 323 affordable units and 18 market rate units. The Chicago Tribune recently reported that the Chicago Community Development Commission is expected to consider earmarking up to $25 million in tax-increment financing (TIF) to back the project at a July 10 meeting.

The Community Development Commission voted July 10 to allow redevelopment to go forward. The plan still needs city council approval. See WBEZ’s coverage here.

See the Tribune’s original story here. Registration on the Tribune site may be required to read the article.

The name of the building is familiar to South Side residents, as well as members of the Jewish community and Chicago history buffs. Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932), was president of Sears, Roebuck and Company, at one point investing $21 million to bail out the company in the post-World War I recession.

The Rosenwald as it looks today.

Architectural rendering of Rosenwald Courts.

Rendering of interior courtyard at the proposed Rosenwald Courts. The courtyard was one of the features of Michigan Boulevard Apartments as originally constructed in 1929.

Rosenwald devoted much of his life and more than $70 million of his personal wealth to philanthropy. Influenced by Jewish leaders, social activists and Booker T. Washington, Rosenwald became dedicated to improving the plight of African-Americans. He said this in 1911:

“The horrors that are due to race prejudice come home to the Jew more forcefully than to others of the white race, on account of the centuries of persecution which they have suffered and still suffer.”

Rosenwald invested $2.7 million in what was to become the Michigan Boulevard Apartments, a landmark 421-unit development that was built in 1921.(Rosenwald also was the major force behind creation of Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.)

Eventually known by its residents as “The Rosenwald,” in honor of its builder, it occupies a full city block between 46th and 47th streets between Wabash and Michigan avenues.

The 454-unit apartment complex was rented by several famous African Americans including Joe Louis, Ralph Metcalfe, Lorraine Hansberry, Gwendolyn Brooks, Nat King Cole and Quincy Jones.

Beginning in the 1960s, the development began to deteriorate due to poor property management and neglect. “The project has been a vacant eyesore for more than 10 years. It has the potential to revitalize the entire neighborhood,” said Judy Levey, JCUA’s CEO, in a recent Chicago Tribune interview.

JCUA’s Community Ventures Program began looking at the Rosenwald several years ago, when resident members of the Save the Rosenwald Coalition requested our assistance.In the past several years, many developers (both for-profit and nonprofit) have grappled with the challenges of preserving and redeveloping the Rosenwald. JCUA’s loan is to Landwhite Developers, which will preserve the property. According to the developer, the newly named Rosenwald Courts will have  one-, two- and three-bedroom units of senior and family housing with a two-acre professionally landscaped interior courtyard. There will also be approximately 21,000 square feet of commercial space along 47th street.

With this loan, JCUA’s Community Ventures will have helped with the creation of more than 3,700 low income housing units in the Chicago area since 1991.“This loan, made to a development that is poised to revitalize an entire neighborhood, honors the rich history of the Jewish community’s connections with the residents of Bronzeville,” said Levey.

» Learn more about Julius Rosenwald

» Learn more about JCUA’s Community Ventures Program

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