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Lathrop Residents: Lease Vacant Units

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Lathrop Homes residents and supporters will rally Thursday, October 23, for a new proposal to lease vacant apartments at the CHA development. Lathrop Homes Local Advisory Council president Juanita Stevenson was scheduled to present the proposal to the CHA board today.

On Thursday residents and supporters from the Lathrop LAC, Lathrop Leadership Team and Logan Square Neighborhood Association will march through Lathrop Homes starting at 4 p.m. at Clybourn, Wellington and Leavitt, and rally outside a vacant home at 5 p.m.

Two-thirds of Lathrop Homes’ 900 units are vacant. Recent residents report that many are in “pretty good shape,” and some have been rehabbed within the past 15 years, said LSNA organizer John McDermott. The groups are proposing that 300 vacant units be leased, and has identified a variety of possible funding sources.

“Leaving units vacant leaves them at risk of break-in, vandalism, and arson,” he said. And it costs CHA in lost rent revenues.

CHA stopped filling vacancies at Lathrop Homes in 1999, when it announced its Plan For Transformation aimed at mixed-income redevelopment. In 2006 the agency said it intended to demolish the development and rebuild 1200 new units, including market rate, affordable, and public housing. Shortly thereafter the working group discussing plans for Lathrop Homes was disbanded, and its future is still listed as “to be determined” by the CHA — the last development with that designation.

“Ms. Stevenson keeps asking when will the meetings resume and we get different answers,” said Tami Love, an LSNA organizer at Lathrop. “They say the working group will resume when [CHA] figure[s] out what they’re going to do with Lathrop; or they say they’re out of money and they’re not going to move forward with anything.”

Meanwhile the CHA’s Plan For Transformation is now ten years or more behind schedule, and the housing downturn has further slowed plans that hinge on the sale of market-rate housing. The plan “seems to be falling apart,” Love said. At the same time, “the homeless problem is getting worse and worse.”

“Keeping these units empty in the midst of a housing crisis is a terrible waste,” said resident Cynthia Scott, a member of the Lathrop Leadership Team. “Leasing 300 units would help families avoid homelessness and reduce the crime and maintenance problems that come with vacancies.”

Unlike other public housing developments which were often isolated, Lathrop Homes are close to transit, manufacturing and retail jobs, social services and good schools, Love said.

Ultimately, residents and supporters are calling for 100 percent affordable redevelopment of the Homes — mixing public housing with affordable rentals and home ownership, with no market-rate component, McDermott said. “It’s in a neighborhood surrounded by market-rate housing, a neighborhood that has lost thousands of units of affordable housing,” he said.

First Ward Ald. Manny Flores has backed their plan.

Preservation groups have called for saving the 70-year-old buildings, built by the New Deal’s Public Works Administration, as one of the last examples of the city’s early public housing. Last year Preservation Chicago listed Lathrop Homes as one of Chicago’s most threatened buildings. The group’s designation (pdf [2]) noted:

“Julia Lathrop Homes is the best public housing development Chicago ever built, representing a racially mixed, remarkably stable community for generations of Chicagoans. Beautifully sited along the Chicago River with a magnificent and mature landscape, the buildings are low-rise and gently ornamented, creating an intimate, humane atmosphere. The development is small scale, low-density and well integrated with the surrounding neighborhood.”

Using the existing structures would minimize disruption for current residents and allow the Cotter Boys and Girls Club and the Mary Crane Center [3], which offers preschool and child care center, both now located in Lathrop Homes to continue operating. Founded by Jane Addams in 1907, the Crane Center moved to Lathrop in 1963, the same year the Boys and Girls Club opened there. This past April, Cotter Club member Krystal Lewis, a Lathrop resident who was a senior at Prosser Career Academy at the time, was named Youth of the Year for Illinois [4] by Boys and Girls Clubs of America.