Why Chicago’s New Workforce Housing Features Micro Units

Lake Street Studios' design addressed several challenges.

Chicago—Lake Street Studios, a new 9.5-story development featuring 61 micro-units of workforce housing, has been completed in Chicago’s Fulton Market Restaurant District near Greektown on the northwest edge of the downtown Loop area.

Designed by Harley Ellis Devereaux, the development delivers affordable, transit-oriented workforce housing. It is situated on a narrow, 30-foot-wide site, with the result that all rooms are in a single-loaded corridor with unobstructed downtown views.

The project was undertaken for Interfaith Housing Development Corporation, a Chicago-based non-sectarian, non-profit organization that partners with neighborhood groups and organizations to help create stable, long-term housing and support services.

“Harley Ellis Devereaux’ Housing Studio focuses largely on mission-driven clients and designing specialty housing, so the workforce population was a natural for us,” Susan King, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C and principal with Southfield, Mich.-based Harley Ellis Devereaux, told MHN. “We also pride ourselves on our lasting client relationships, and the number of repeat clients we have, of which Interfaith Housing Development Corporation is one.”

Two equal and interrelated challenges were key drivers of the design, King said. They were the highly-constrained budget and the tight site.

“The lot width of 30 feet is typical in residential areas of Chicago and usually accommodates a two- or three-flat building,” King said. “So the density at Lake Street is on one hand extreme. But on the other hand, because it is in the downtown core, [it] is allowed by right with zoning. No zoning variances or waivers were sought for the development. We are used to tight budgets, but in this case, we had to reposition dollars to pay for things we do not typically have on these types of projects—deep foundations for example.”

The design of Lake Street Studios responds contextually to mass transit, the Chicago River and pedestrian and vehicular traffic along the I-90/94 “expressway wall.”
Blues and whites reference the sky, river and nearby high-rise buildings. Copper accents are a nod to the orange and red masonry of lower surrounding buildings. The burst of color along the adjacent transit corridors serves as an identity and artistic expression of their home for Lake Street Studios residents.

All the apartments are studios. They are approximately 300 square feet in size and conform to the City of Chicago Building Code definition of a Single Room Occupancy (SRO) housing unit.

All Lake Street Studio residents are required to have total family income at or below the federally set limits for a household at or below 50 percent of the area median income (AMI), or $25,800 or less for a one-person household, King reports.

The rent cannot exceed the federally-determined amount for someone at or below 50 percent AMI, which is currently $725 per month for a studio apartment.

“All of our developments are challenging; this one was particularly so due to the economies of scale and the size and location of the site,” said Gladys Jordan, president of the Interfaith Housing Development Corporation.