Press: Block Club Chicago

A Community Center Partly Financed By Neighbors Could Open In North Lawndale Next Year

NORTH LAWNDALE — An immigrant-led development firm wants to build a West Side community center that neighbors can invest in.

Duo Development is working with Canopy Architecture and Design to build the Starling community center at 1600 S. Sawyer Ave., the site of a former laundromat. The proposed 2,500-square-foot building would feature indoor and outdoor seating areas, Monday Coffee Co. shop and a small library.

Developers have raised $10,600 from the community and hope to raise $100,000 in crowdsourced funds. Supporters donate can online.

The developers also have received $150,000 from the Chicago Community Trust, $250,000 from the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund and have applied for another $250,000 Equitable Transit Oriented Development grant.

Developers expect the project to cost $1 million overall, and they could open by 2024 after building permits are approved, they said.

“Our motivation is making this project something that residents can look at and want more of,” said Rafael Robles, who co-owns Duo Development. “This level of crowdfunding at such a hyperlocal level is very unique.”

Robles and his brother, Carlos Robles-Shanahan, are DACA recipients who immigrated to the United States from Mexico when they were kids, they said.

They started Duo in 2019 with the goal of creating real estate projects for the benefit of disinvested communities, and they thought North Lawndale would be a perfect neighborhood for “ethical” real estate, they said.

Duo partnered with Canopy, which specializes in affordable housing, to ensure it could create a high-quality community center at a low cost, the brothers said.

“We saw owning land and a nice place to live was important,” Robles-Shanahan said. “As we’re both immigrants, we really see the importance of owning land and the importance of having a nice place to live in.”

During a community meeting with residents last week, they told neighbors about the benefit of owning land in their community, which has been neglected for decades, to create community wealth and improve quality of life. The project has been backed by Ald. Monique Scott (24th).

“It’s a great project, and I’m very excited. With the community profit-sharing and gathering space, it’s a great appeal for the community,” Scott said.

Jaime Torres Carmona, founder and principal designer of Canopy, said the project is ambitious in its funding and objectives, but it is achievable.

Canopy specializes in creating buildings in disinvested communities, competing in the “Come Home” design competition for building affordable housing on the South and West sides. It is also part of a development team vying to build a grocery store in Garfield Park.

“This gives us a new chance for North Lawndale and Little Village to be bridged together,” Torres Carmona said. “When we came into the project, they knew we wanted to make holistic choices to social impact and underserved communities. I’m glad this aligns with our vision.”

By Trey Arline, Block Club Chicago

May 23, 2023

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