“I’m so happy to live here”
JEFFERSON PARK – Angel Crespo is one of the first residents of a long-awaited Jefferson Park development – and he never wants to leave.
Crespo, 32, who uses a wheelchair, moved into the Accessible and Affordable Housing Project at 5150 N. Northwest Highway two weeks ago.
The Full Circle Communities apartment complex has been under construction since January 2020 after taking more than four years to take off. It has 75 affordable apartments for veterans, seniors, and people with disabilities. Residents chosen from the more than 700 who applied for apartments began moving in last month and will continue in the coming weeks, said Josh Wilmoth, CEO of Full Circle Communities.
An open house is scheduled for late spring or early summer so the community can meet neighbors and view the apartments, Wilmoth said.
“When I first came to see it, what I loved was how easy and handicap accessible it is and how beautiful it is,” Crespo said.
Crespo, who grew up in Jefferson Park, said the move was something of a homecoming, though the neighborhood has changed significantly from what he remembered.
Crespo said he was grateful to have been chosen to live in the building, which is radically different from his old apartment. His new home has panoramic views of the neighborhood and is quieter, safer and will allow him to get to know the community and his neighbors better, he said.
The amenities offered — a game and computer room, an in-unit washer and dryer, a dog playpen, and a pop-up food pantry by Friendship Community Place, among others — were also big selling points, said Crespo.
“My pal [apartment] was not accessible,” Crespo said. “I would have to go up and down 10 steps, carrying my wheelchair with me up and down the stairs. It was so stressful and tiring at the end of the day. … Sometimes I didn’t go out because there were so many stairs, so I stayed at home.
After years of furious and racist debates – which also included worries about the density and increased traffic – many neighbors changed their views on the project once they learned more about it, had Wilmoth previously told Block Club.
Crespo hopes to stay in his new studio for the long term, and he wants the neighbors who opposed the development to give his residents a chance. The development is a positive and necessary addition to the community, he said.
“I’m so happy to live here,” he said. “Every time I come home it’s a breath of fresh air…. It’s incredible. This is how it should feel to have your own home.
Crespo was the first customer to take advantage of the pop-up pantry, which provides residents with new and donated household and hygiene items. He said it was a big help to settle into his space.
Colorful photographs and murals by two local artists also welcome residents to the building.
The work of photographer Eric Craig, who has lived in Jefferson Park for 18 years, can be seen on the seven residential floors, computer room, lobby and rental offices.
Seventy-four triptychs – one image on three panels hinged side by side – were chosen to illuminate the building. Each floor is themed and features photos of Craig from Chicago and around the world.
Craig said he was “ecstatic” to have his job in the building and hopes it can give residents a sense of place and access to art. The installation project is the largest he has worked on, he said.
“It’s been a long run, so seeing it come to fruition, seeing the beautiful space and getting ready for the grand opening is awesome,” Craig said.
Local artist Cyd Smilie, who covered the northwest side with dozens of murals, painted a mural in the game room and one in the entryway. A large-scale mural is planned for the exterior wall near the parking lot.
Full Circle Communities collaborated with the former 45th Ward Ald. John Arena and his wife to select and install the artwork. Arena said the art brings life and energy to the building and serves as a reminder that it can be accessible to everyone.
“It’s a beautiful building on its own, but every building needs some kind of presence that we can connect to as people,” Arena said. “And I’ve always talked, just in our community, about having a casual association with the arts in any way I can.”
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