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Gay seniors will find home at old Town Hall police station

Exterior former 23rd district (Town Hall)3police statiAddis  Halsted. Tuesday May 11 2011 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Exterior of the former 23rd district (Town Hall)3police station at Addison & Halsted. Tuesday, May 11, 2011 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 14, 2011 12:36AM

A former police station on the North Side that once was a symbol of discrimination to Chicago’s gay community will become part of a housing development serving gay seniors.

For $1, the city will sell the old Town Hall District station, 3600 N. Halsted, to Heartland Housing Inc., sources said. The nonprofit developer will incorporate the old station into new construction of about 90 apartments for senior citizens.

The apartments will be priced for lower-income renters. The project is a final favor for the gay community from Mayor Daley, who leaves office Monday.

Senior housing has been seen as an unmet need among gays, many of whom want to stay in familiar neighborhoods as they age. Housing cannot legally be restricted by sexual orientation, but the project’s location in Boystown means its immediate market is seniors who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.

The site is within the 44th Ward represented by Ald. Tom Tunney, the first openly gay member of the City Council.

City officials scheduled a news conference Friday to announce the plan and the developer. The sale requires City Council approval.

Michael Goldberg, executive director of Heartland Housing, said the design is incomplete but that it “will preserve much of the exterior of the old Town Hall station and some interior features.” The building dates from 1907 and is under consideration for landmark status, which probably would be granted under the deal.

Goldberg said his group must secure tax credits and other funding sources to ensure that the apartments remain affordable. He said the funding process could take about a year.

The project will include ground-floor commercial space and social services provided in conjunction with the Center on Halsted next door. The $20 million center opened in 2007, billed as the Midwest’s first permanent community center for gays.

Four months ago, at a Center on Halsted event for then-mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel, Tunney talked about the irony of turning a police station that once epitomized the tensions between police and the gay community into a housing project that will benefit gay seniors.

The alderman said it wasn’t long ago that police rounded up people simply on suspicion of being gay or for patronizing a gay bar.

Reached Thursday, Tunney said police attitudes have improved and officers in the Town Hall district are now “very supportive of LGBT rights and fairness.”

“But there have been times where the relationship with the police department was confrontational,” Tunney said. “There was a lot of confrontation over AIDS funding and the AIDS crisis in the ’80s where police were pretty hard nosed in their enforcement. … The gay bars were very concerned about bar raids.”

Over the years, Daley emerged as a champion on gay and lesbian issues. He engineered $5.4 million in loans and subsidies for the Center on Halsted, where a rooftop garden bears the mayor’s name.

Daley also championed gay marriage, appointed Tunney and gay department heads and extended health benefits to registered live-in partners of gay and lesbian city employees. He welcomed the 2006 Gay Games, increased city support for AIDS funding and established the LGBT Hall of Fame.

The city closed the station in 2010 when the new Town Hall headquarters opened at 850 W. Addison, just up the street. A vacant parcel next to the old building will be part of the development.

Goldberg said Heartland Housing has built 1,600 units over nearly 25 years. “Our mission is to serve and to house people most vulnerable to danger and injustice,” he said.

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