Mattie Butler Apartments, Chicago

2022 Landmarks Illinois Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award for Leadership

Since 1980, Mattie Butler and the organization she founded, Woodlawn East Community and Neighbors (WECAN), has worked to address the changing needs of Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood by providing much-needed resources such as affordable housing. In the 1990s, WECAN purchased two deteriorated former 1920s apartment buildings at 6230 S. Dorchester Ave. (Eddie Mae and Alex Johnson Apartments) and 6146 S. Kenwood Ave. (Butler Lindon Apartments), renovated them and for over 20 years operated them as affordable housing developments. The two buildings are only blocks from the new Obama Presidential Center now under construction in Jackson Park, and are in the fastest gentrifying part of Woodlawn most at risk for market-rate development. For years, area residents have been concerned about the future of Woodlawn and the affordability of its housing stock for families and individuals with limited incomes.

In October 2017, Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH) purchased the apartment buildings from WECAN, which were in need of repair due to years of deferred maintenance, and escalating costs. With financial assistance from partners at the Illinois Housing Development Authority, the City of Chicago and the Chicago Housing Authority, it completed a $26.8 million renovation to preserve the buildings’ historic character and the long-term affordability of their subsidized apartments. The two rehabbed buildings, renamed the Mattie Butler Apartments in May 2022, are a tribute to Mattie Butler and WECAN’s decades of stewardship and activism in Woodlawn. The renovated apartments also have served as a catalyst for other neighborhood improvements and investments that have enhanced public safety and contributed to the community’s renewal.

(Photo credit: POAH)


Mattie Butler, Woodlawn East Community and Neighbors (WECAN)

Building Owner: Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH) – Bill Eager, Molly Ekerdt, and Claudia Rodriguez; POAH Communities – Felicia Dawson and Evelyn Starks-Spicer

Kristin Faust, Illinois Housing Development Authority

Marisa Novara, City of Chicago Department of Housing

Tracey Scott, Chicago Housing Authority

Architect: Philip Johnson and Erroll O’Neil, Johnson & Lee Architects

Contractor: Kelly Powers Baria, Powers & Sons Construction

Art Installation: William Hill William Hill Gallery

Attorney: Diane Corbett, Applegate & Thorne-Thomsen, P.C.

Construction Manager: Matt Lenzini, Solution for Development and Construction LLC

(Photo credit: POAH)


Bill Eager and Molly Ekerdt, POAH & Felicia Dawson, POAH Communities

The Mattie Butler Apartments are essential both as a home for the people who live there and as an important part of Woodlawn’s history. Under Ms. Butler’s stewardship, the buildings served as a respite for those in need, providing both a safe, affordable place to live and the emotional and other supports to meet life’s challenges. Ms. Butler’s legacy is especially important today as the community changes – providing a model of how best to create diverse communities in which there is room for all.

In 2017, escalating costs and Ms. Butler’s own health challenges prompted her to explore the buildings’ sale. POAH, which has worked to create and preserve affordable housing in Woodlawn for more than a decade, was able to put together the financing and support to purchase, repair and upgrade the properties, while ensuring their long-term affordability.

What the Butler Apartments’ project has demonstrated is that with community partners encouraged by their commitment for caring about vulnerable residents and historic preservation, we can create long-term affordable housing opportunities and enhance the quality of life of its residents, even as the local market as a whole undergoes changes.

(Photo credit: POAH)


Bill Eager and Molly Ekerdt, POAH & Felicia Dawson, POAH Communities

The first benefit is, of course, the preservation of more than 100 needed apartments available to those with limited means. But there is more. By preserving affordable housing in the middle of a changing community, the project gave people confidence that rather than being ‘pushed out’ of the community or ‘displaced,’ long-term residents of all incomes would be able to enjoy the benefits that long-sought investment in the community can bring. The work of Mattie Butler and POAH stands as a beacon of hope and a pathway to a better future for the community.

The project returned the two buildings, originally constructed as residential hotels in the 1920s, to their place among Woodlawn’s architectural gems. In recent years their physical conditions had declined as a result of deferred maintenance. The apartments’ renovation, besides improving the quality-of-life experience for residents, has also catalyzed other neighborhood improvements and investments that have enhanced public safety and contributed to the community’s renewal. POAH’s investment in Butler Apartments signals a commitment that, along with the City of Chicago and other agencies, there is a collective commitment to balancing the rising market with the preservation of existing affordable housing markets.

(Photo credit: Dorothea von Haeften)

Support our advocacy

Be a voice for the future of our communities by supporting Landmarks Illinois. Our work enhances communities, empowers citizens, promotes local economic development and offers environmentally sound solutions.

Become A Member