- Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop - http://www.newstips.org -

Lathrop Homes highlight CHA vacancy boondoggle

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With controversy growing over CHA’s huge stock of unleased apartments – and the federal operating subsidies the agency receives for vacant units – residents will rally Saturday at Lathrop Homes, the development with the highest vacancy rate in the system.

They’ll be barbecuing and celebrating Lathrop Home’s recent addition to the National Register of Historic Places – a “stunning reversal of fortune” for a development that was slated for demolition a few years ago, according to Lee Bey [2] – on Saturday, July 14 at noon on Hoyne south of Diversy.

And they’ll be demanding the residents be allowed to stay at Lathrop during renovations under a plan that is still to be determined.  CHA has long promised that residents could stay, organizers say, but at a June 27 meeting, an agency official said they may instead be forced to leave ahead of construction.

CHA chief Charles Woodyard hasn’t responded to a letter from the Lathrop Leadership Team and the Logan Square Neighborhood Association [3] seeking clarification, said John McDermott of LSNA.

He said some residents moved to the southern portion of Lathrop when the northern section was closed last year based on the promise.  And he worries that it’s a ploy to weaken residents’ voices at a crucial point.

Help from HUD?

Lathrop residents went to Washington recently as part of a delegation from the Chicago Housing Initiative [4] that met with Sandra Henriquez, HUD assistant secretary for public housing.  Leah Levinger of CHI reports that Henriquez was “very interested” in the group’s research on vacancies in CHA – including significantly higher costs for housing families in under-leased developments.

One result: HUD staff members are expected in Chicago this week to tour vacant properties and meet with residents at Lathrop and elsewhere.  CHI is hoping to work with HUD and congressional staff members to find ways to increase CHA’s accountability for the federal funds it receives.

Earlier CHI had revealed [5] that while the agency boasts of nearly full occupancy, in fact almost 20 percent of CHA units are unoccupied, including nearly a third of family units.  And an agreement with HUD under its Moving To Work program allows CHA (unlike most housing authorities) to collect operating subsidies for housing units whether they are occupied or not.

Not only is CHA collecting federal funding for housing it isn’t providing, but because overhead remains basically the same in underleased developments, the agency is now spending $11,000 more per family in Lathrop than it did six years ago, Levinger said.

“They could house three families for the funding they’re using to house one” in Lathrop, she said, calling it “a waste of taxpayer money” that denies housing to families that need it.

Breaking the rules

A new Chicago Reporter investigation [6] shows that CHA has failed to produce the documentation required by HUD regulations to take units offline.  Levinger says the HUD-CHA agreement contains no significant consequences for violating its terms.

According to the Reporter, offline units include apartments at Lathrop and Cabrini Green Rowhouses [7] that passed federal inspections last year.  As Newstips noted [8] last year, an earlier CHI report showed that hundreds of CHA units have remained offline years after rehab was completed on them.

Lathrop is “an exact case study of the type of problem we’re talking about with vacancies at CHA overall,” Levinger said.  “They started vacating [Lathrop] in 2000 and they still don’t have a plan.”  (With 925 units, Lathrop is currently 82 percent vacant, and residents have long called [9] for leasing vacant apartments.  Some 40,000 families are on CHA’s waiting list.)

Instead of maintaining occupancy levels and maintaining properties, “they vacate first and figure out what they’re going to do later.”  Then they use subsequent deterioration as an excuse to reduce the amount of public housing.

“We’re saying keep the units occupied until you’ve figured out what you’re doing with them,” she said.  “They’re getting federal money to provide housing – they should be providing housing with it.”

More delays

Meanwhile the planning process for Lathrop’s “revitalization” continues its long history of delays.  A supposedly open planning process consisted of three workshops in December – where, as the Reporter points out [10], planners refused to discuss resident’s number-one concern, the income mix of the redevelopment – and since then a series of postponements, McDermott said.  A planning team is now expected to present a set of scenarios sometime later this year.

Residents want the historic riverside development preserved [10] and redeveloped as a mix of public and affordable housing.  What they don’t want is market-rate housing, which would require demolition and new construction.

Residents and their supporters have emphasized the glut of market-rate housing in the area – and the long-growing shortage of affordable housing throughout the city.

They got some hope for flexibility recently when Woodyard said the rigid formula guiding the CHA’s Plan For Transformation – one-third market-rate, one-third affordable, one-third public housing – needs to be reexamined in light of the crash of the housing market.  CHA is currently undertaking a “recalibration” of the transformation plan.

But talking with the Reporter [11], an executive of Related Midwest, the lead for-profit developer on the Lathrop planning team, insisted that market-rate housing must be part of the mix in the new Lathrop.  He gave two reasons: to attract retail development, and to qualify for TIF financing, if it’s needed to make the deal work.

But would TIF financing be necessary if market-rate housing wasn’t included?  And is more market-rate housing really what we should be subsidizing with TIF funds right now?

Meanwhile, Related Midwest has asked CHA [12]to change the income mix at Roosevelt Square, the redevelopment of the Near West Side ABLA homes (which is also far behind schedule), to 80 percent market-rate and 20 percent public housing.  That is, a third less public housing than previously agreed to, and no affordable housing at all.

Over the past decade, CHA’s plans for Lathrop have been a series of constantly changing schemes; Related Midwest has had delays, financial difficulties [10], and shifting targets. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the vision of Lathrop residents and their supporters.

On Saturday, Lathrop residents will launch a letter-writing campaign urging CHA to adjust the income goals for Lathrop as part of the recalibration effort.  McDermott notes that on the CHA’s website for public input, preserving and rehabbing Lathrop with no market-rate housing is the most popular proposal.

 

Note: Sandra Henriquez’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this post.