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At Altgeld, CHA scales back demolition plans

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With a federal historic preservation review of plans for Altgeld Gardens under way, CHA has dramatically scaled back the number of units it is considering demolishing there, according to a residents group.

People for Community Recovery [2] discovered last year that the CHA development had been found to be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993, said board president Christian Strachan.

After the group contacted federal agencies for more information — and with demands for a community-led planning process — HUD initiated a Section 106 review [3] aimed at minimizing the impact of federally-funded redevelopment on historic properties, he said.

Meanwhile a consultant hired by CHA in May to coordinate planning has discussed two possible scenarios, one involving demolition of about 120 units and one with even less demolition, according to Cheryl Johnson, executive director of PCR.

That’s a huge change from CHA’s proposal last year, when its annual budget included $7.3 million to cover “planning for demolition” for 648 units [4] at Altgeld, or one-third of the units there.

“That’s a victory for us,” Strachan said.

CHA is expected to unveil a final draft of its plan at the end of September.

Community planning process

Meanwhile PCR and supporting groups in the Save Altgeld Coalition are conducting their own community planning process, with help by a volunteer group of architects and with far more robust resident participation, Strachan said.  It’s necessary because CHA’s approach to redevelopment has put residents’ interests last, he said.

“We’re putting together our own community development plan” that’s oriented to “empowering and protecting the community,” he said.

They’re holding a final town hall to gather input this Saturday, September 7, from 2 to 5 p.m. at Altgeld’s Community Building at 951 E. 132nd.

Citing the affordable housing crisis, the Save Altgeld Coalition wants to see 100 percent of Altgeld’s units rehabbed, Johnson said.

The community plan will also propose guarantees that Atgeld residents get employment in any redevelopment work, as well as commercial development including a grocery store.  Johnson said current CHA plans include no commercial development beyond a community garden.

“That’s something I think will change,” Strachan commented.

Consisting mainly of brick row houses located around 113rd and Ellis, Altgeld Gardens was built in 1945 to house African-American veterans and their families.  Current plans for an extension of the Red Line [5] would put the transit line within walking distance, Johnson said.

A CHA spokesperson wasn’t immediately available for comment.