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New rules for CHA demolitions

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New HUD regulations could make it much harder for CHA to get approval to demolish housing at Altgeld Gardens, Lathrop Homes, and Cabrini Row Houses, according to a veteran housing attorney who helped negotiate the change.

HUD issued a notice in February (PIH 2012-7 [2]) requiring public housing authorities claiming that units are “obsolete” must demonstrate that no reasonable program of repair is feasible, said Bill Wilen of the Shriver National Center on Poverty Law [3].  It also requires environmental and civil rights reviews, he said.

A HUD regulation governing the matter is expected to be issued early next year.

Previously, applications for demolition were routinely approved by HUD’s Special Application Center, located in Chicago, including applications that clearly failed to meet statutory requirements, Wilen said.  Rejections of demolition applications by the center have increased significantly in recent months, he said.

Five years ago Wilen successfully challenged [4] HUD’s approval of demolition of public housing in Rockford, one of several legal battles that he said informed an effort by the national Housing Justice Network to get HUD to tighten up its regulations.

There are other possible legal grounds to challenge CHA demolitions. The agency’s annual contract with HUD requires CHA to maintain units that it plans to demolish eventually.  Instead, like many other public housing authorities, CHA allows housing to become deteriorated and then claims it must be demolished as “obsolete,” according to advocates.

Altgeld and Lathrop

At Altgeld Gardens, residents are gearing up for a CHA town hall meeting Thursday (November 29, 6 p.m., at the Community Building, 951 E. 132nd Place) to get community input on plans for their development.

In October, CHA submitted an annual plan with $7.3 million designated for “planning for demolition” of 648 units [5] at Altgeld.  People For Community Recovery [6] is organizing against demolition.

At Lathrop, six scholars of public housing policy, including Mary Patillo of Northwestern, published an opinion piece in the Skyline [7] noting CHA’s “decade of indecision, occasional promises, conflicting information, organizational amnesia, and changing leadership.”

“It’s time to open up a real and transparent democratic and participatory process at Lathrop,” they write.

A development team selected by CHA recently proposed three scenarios [8] for Lathrop, each including demolition of from half to all of the development’s public housing.  Lathrop Homes was listed on the National Register of Historic Places earlier this year.

CAC recommendations

On Friday morning, the Central Advisory Council of CHA, representing resident leaders from across the city, will present their recommendations for revising CHA’s Plan For Transformation, followed by discussion by a panel of stakeholders (Friday, November 20, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at UIC Student Center East, 750 S. Halsted, room 302).

Issued this summer, the CAC’s recommendations [9] call on CHA to focus on preservation and rehabilitation of existing CHA units over more expensive new construction; redevelop housing such as Lathrop and Cabrini, located in areas with large inventories of market-rate housing, using a mix of affordable and public housing; and establish a long-term capital improvement plan.

They call for adjusting CHA’s work requirement to account for high unemployment; establishing an independent monitor over federal requirements that CHA contractors hire residents; and instituting a business development strategy to promote resident-owned businesses including worker-owned cooperatives.

The CAC also calls for reassessing of the role of Business and Professional People in the Public Interest [10] in decision-making at Cabrini and Lathrop, where BPI has opposed redevelopment plans that don’t include market housing.  BPI’s involvement goes back to the Gautreaux case, first filed in 1966.