Project Name: Margot and Harold Schiff Residences
Location: Chicago, Ill.
Developer: Mercy Housing Lakefront Lakefront
Builder: Linn-Mathes
Architect: Helmut Jahn, Murphy Jahn
Size: 96 300-square-foot studio apartments
Housing type: “Permanent supportive housing”
affordable rental units with no-term

Green Features:

  • Smaller building footprint
  • Solar hot water
  • 16 wind turbines
  • Greywater system
  • Rainwater cistern
  • Permeable walkways
  • Highly insulated metal wall panels
  • Low-E windows
  • Organic paints, low-VOC finishes,
    and unfinished surfaces

Note: This is the first of four case studies spotlighting winners of The Home Depot Foundation’s Awards of Excellence, a program that recognizes innovative “affordable housing built responsibly.”

Within view of the elevated train and situated at the intersection of two of Chicago’s wealthiest neighborhoods, Gold Coast and Lincoln Park, the notorious Cabrini-Green public housing project once stood as a symbol of neglect. The project has been torn down, and rising from the ashes are new buildings that demonstrate novel ways of housing people who need financial assistance.

Developed by non-profit affordable housing developer Mercy Housing Lakefront adjacent to where those projects stood, the LEED-Silver Margot and Harold Schiff Residences provide 96 300-square-foot units of “permanent supportive housing” to people who are homeless or who are on the verge of homelessness. The community is not public housing: Residents pay one-third of their income, generally less than $8,000 annually, toward rent, and they can live there indefinitely. The community also includes on-site case management and employment services.

The building’s unique architecture—its outward sloping shape and roof-based wind turbines have led nearby residents to dub it “the train”--and its wide range of environmentally friendly features help the building stand out as a fresh approach to quelling homelessness.

Winners of the rental project category, the Margot and Harold Schiff Residences are partially powered by 16 wind turbines.

Winners of the rental project category, the Margot and Harold Schiff Residences are partially powered by 16 wind turbines.

Credit: Doug Snower

“The green features and the architecture were two ways that Mercy Housing Lakefront decided to draw attention to the housing type called permanent supportive housing,” says Lisa Kuklinski, regional director of new markets and public affairs for Mercy Housing Lakefront. “The objective was to demonstrate clean and healthy living for those who could not otherwise afford it.” This was especially important because many of the chronically homeless suffer from respiratory problems or heart disease.

The building features organic paints, low-VOC finishes, and little carpeting and upholstery that could off-gas potentially hazardous chemicals, says Barry Mullen, vice president of real estate development for Mercy Housing Lakefront. Where possible, construction materials such as concrete were left unfinished. “Residents say, ‘This building just smells clean,’” he says.

The fifth floor end unit has the best view of downtown Chicago.

The fifth floor end unit has the best view of downtown Chicago.

Credit: Doug Snower

Because Mercy pays all utilities “We needed as many alternative energy sources as we could find to reduce long-term operating costs,” Mullen notes. The building’s solar thermal panels help meet domestic hot water needs and 16 wind turbines generate 16,000 kWh per year “That’s not everything, but it’s something,” Mullen says. “It’s free today and it’s free 20 years from now.”

The community also has water-saving features, including the first residential greywater system in the city. It treats wastewater from baths and showers and uses it for the building’s toilets. Meanwhile, rainwater is collected in a 10,000-gallon cistern and used to irrigate the natural prairie landscaping. Other than the parking lots, most of the site surfaces, including walkways, are permeable, allowing rainwater to filter through to the ground. What’s more, the building’s shape, which slopes out from the bottom, leaves a smaller footprint.

Mullen says that with the actual costs of donated products factored in, the green features were less than 4% of the total development cost. But the initial investment resulted in long-term cost savings, which were crucial for an affordable housing project, he adds. “I can’t think of a better housing type to incorporate green design than affordable housing.”

All apartments, such as this typical interior, are furnished.

All apartments, such as this typical interior, are furnished.

Credit: Doug Snower

The first floor hallway is the “main street” part of the main floor, with entrances to the supportive services offices, community room, and resident lounge.

The first floor hallway is the “main street” part of the main floor, with entrances to the supportive services offices, community room, and resident lounge.

Credit: Doug Snower