For many folks, the phrase “SRO” means “standing room only,” at a ballgame or concert.
But in the world of affordable housing, “SRO” stands for “single room occupancy,” a place where those without lots of resources can find a place to live.
Evanston’s McGaw YMCA has been providing such housing for men for decades in its building at Maple and Grove.
But while the housing units are clean and safe, they also have the look, feel and amenities of McGaw’s 92-year-old facility.
So on Monday, the “Y” revealed what the 156 single-occupancy rooms will look like after a $12.6 million renovation project is completed in 2024.
“We’re super excited to view the new model,” said YMCA Board Chair Janine Hill.
That model is much brighter and more modern than the current rooms, with upgraded heating and air conditioning, more closet space, new bed furnishings and new flooring.
The men’s residence will also receive a new lobby, meeting rooms, and individual shower stalls instead of the old-fashioned “everybody in the same room” you may have had years ago in gym.
“Each resident will have dignity and privacy,” said President/CEO Monique Parsons.
The YMCA also provides a variety of social services for the residents, including case management, help with job searches, and mental health and substance abuse programs.
“Our facility is a community within a communty,” said Parsons, “where services meet the residents at the front door.”
The McGaw YMCA says it is the “largest provider of safe, affordable, and accessible housing for men in Evanston,” and one of the few remaining SRO providers in the Chicago metropolitan area.
The average rent at McGaw is $560 per month, and while 14% of those living there used to be homeless, the vast majority of residents, officials said, are employed … but at low-wage jobs.
The YMCA calls what it’s doing a “bridge” program, helping men get back on their feet financially or emotionally, while providing them an affordable place to live.
That’s particularly important in a place like Evanston, with its high cost of living.
The local YMCA was founded in 1885. In a community which was institutionally segregated, the Emerson YMCA branch, for Black Evanstonians then opened in the early 20th century, and closed in 1969 following desegregation.
A fund-raising effort is now under way to make the renovation possible at the Grove Street location. So far, about $1.7 million of the $12.6 million has been pledged.
A request is in to the City of Evanston for $3 million of federal ARPA funds, a request now working its way through City Council.
Assuming all of the money is raised and the entire project moves forward, residents will be provided temporary housing so all 156 units can be done and open simultaneously in 2024.
The YMCA has been a housing and service provider in Evanston since the 19th century.
Officials say the proposed renovations will help the “Y” do more for residents and the community, while also working to end what is sometimes a negative stereotype about the facility.
Roland Fouche, Senior Residence Manager, said “we’re intentionally moving away” from the old image of poverty and substance abusers.
Not that the needy won’t be helped. They will. But the help they receive, and the place they receive it, YMCA leaders say, will be so much better, and able to do so much more.
“It’s a conscious effort,” Fouche said, “to change the narrative.”