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Cappleman: nothing to discuss

After weeks of ignoring an invitation to a community forum, Alderman James Cappleman has informed organizers he won’t be attending the event — which will be held outside his office, after Capplemn apparently pressured a local church to cancel.

The Organization of the Northeast and Lakeview Action Coalition are holding an accountability meeting at 6 p.m., Thursday, March 21 at the ward office at 4544 N. Broadway.

It was originally scheduled at the People’s Church, but Rev. Jean Darling said she “got pushback from the [church’s] board and from the alderman.”

She said she didn’t know what the meeting was about when she agreed to host it, and “I don’t like [the groups’] polarizing approach…I don’t care for the Alinsky stye.  We want to be about reconciliation and trying to work together.”

Cappleman has refused to meet with ONE since last summer, when the group objected after he held a “groundbreaking party” for a developer who planned to raise rents at the Lawrence House, an affordable highrise at Lawrence and Kenmore now in foreclosure, said housing organizer Mary Lynch-Dungy.  She said Cappleman had promised to work to keep Lawrence House affordable during his campaign.

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Madigan joins calls to replace DeMarco at FHFA

Days after Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan joined the growing chorus demanding the replacement of FHFA interim director Edward DeMarco, fifteen protestors interrupted DeMarco’s appearance Tuesday before the House Finance Committee.

Five were arrested, according to the New Bottom Line Campaign.  (Video here.)

“DeMarco is kicking my family out of my home,” called out Ramon Suero, a homeowner facing foreclosure and one of the five arrested. “Dump DeMarco! Principal Reduction now!

“Ed DeMarco’s policies are putting my three kids, my wife, and me out on the street. If the president doesn’t get rid of him, he’s responsible for putting millions of Americans just like me on street as well.”

Housing advocates have been calling on President Obama to replace DeMarco, who has blocked principal reduction for underwater homeowners with mortgages held by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  (See previous Newstips here.)

“DeMarco’s actions are driving millions of Americans into foreclosure and record debt,” said Tracy Van Slyke, executive director of the New Bottom Line.

“We are fed up, and it is time for President Obama to act on his promises to America’s middle class by dumping DeMarco and nominating a permanent director who will move principal reduction at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and stand with all homeowners and taxpayers.”

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Cappleman protest called

An ad-hoc group of activists will protest — and offer free soup — outside 46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman’s office on Wednesday, March 6 (5 p.m., 4544 N. Broadway), while two community organizations have invited the controversial alderman to a town hall on March 21 to discuss affordable housing and other issues.

Food Not Bombs will be providing soup for anyone who’s hungry outside Cappleman’s office on Wednesday.

Cappleman has been getting plenty of attention lately from Mark Brown and DNAinfo for his attempts to ban low-rent cubicle hotels, kick the Salvation Army soup truck out of his ward, and most recently, make it a crime to be in a bus stop if you’re not waiting for a bus.

On top of it, with a wave of developers  gobbling up affordable rentals across the north lakefront, Capplemen has shown no interest in preserving housing options for his low-income constituents — in some cases, critics say, almost certainly adding to the number of homeless.

Repeatedly citing his background as a social worker, Cappleman has claimed sympathy with the poor and sad he wants more effective delivery of services.

But “it’s not enough to say there should be grants, there should be programs,” said Thomas Weisgard, an Occupy activist and organizer of Wednesday’s protest.  “Here there are hundreds and hundreds of people who now have a place to live, who have a place to get food, and he’s shutting them down.

“It’s winter, it’s Chicago, we’re getting ten inches of snow, and he’s putting people out in the street.”

‘Classic Cappleman’

“It’s classic Cappleman stuff,” said Fran Tobin of Northside Action for Justice.  “He says he’s looking out for poor people by not feeding them — providing them with food makes them dependent.  It’s what he’s been saying for years.”

“We’re seeing a pattern where [Cappleman’s] actions don’t jibe with his words,” said Erin Ryan, president of the board of Lakeview Action Coalition.

A social worker who works with homeless people, Ryan said Cappleman’s assertion that feeding people is a “disincentive” to getting them “sustained help” is “perplexing” and “just not in line with best practices.”

LAC and Organization of the Northeast have invited Cappleman to a community meeting on March 21 on the subject, “Who Is Welcome in the 46th Ward?”

“We want to lay out how we’d like to work together on these issues and give [Cappleman] an opportunity to speak publicly about whether he wants to work with us,” said Jennifer Ritter, LAC’s executive director.

As reported here last month, Cappleman is among the alderman that LAC has called on to help preserve SRO housing where residents are threatened with eviction.  Attention in his ward has focused on the Hotel Chateau, 3838 N. Broadway, where 30-day notices of lease termination are coming due.

Hands off

Cappleman has declined to use his influence to press developers to maintain affordability, or even to make a public statement in favor of preserving affordability, organizers say.  Residents say he’s referred them to agencies that provide homeless services.

“There’s not a lot of room in the homeless system,” said Ryan, who’s executive director of the Lincoln Park Community Shelter.  “You’re taking people who are living independently” — and in many cases accessing social services near where they live — “and putting them in shelters….It’s going to be difficult to get them back in permanent housing.”

She adds: “No one is better off in a shelter.”

Ryan points out that while the city is united behind an amibitous plan to end homelessness — which calls for preserving and expanding affordable housing — Cappleman is “working against that plan, and working to displace people and make them homeless.”

In Uptown and Rogers Park, ONE has been focused on a developer who’s bought up seven buildings with 800 units of affordable studio apartments with plans to make them upscale.  ONE has been calling for a portion of the units to be preserved as affordable.

Cappleman has refused to discuss the matter with the community organization, taking the remarkable position that an alderman has no influence over a developer in his ward, said interim director Angie Lobo.  She said it’s clear that in fact Cappleman is working with the developer.

Safety net

“These buildings provide an important safety-net level of very affordable housing,  and if they are lost, many of their resident will become homeless,” said Ryan.  “We can’t afford to lose them.

“There’s no question they should be well-managed and safe, but we think there is a way to keep the buildings affordable and make them assets to the community,” she said.

LAC has succeeded in preserving a number of SROs as updated, low-income housing, most recently bringing in a nonprofit developer for the Diplomat Hotel, 3208 N. Sheffield, where Thresholds now operates the building and provides services on site.

In that case Alderman Tom Tunney (44th) took a clear public position that he wanted the building’s affordability preserved, and he worked with LAC and city agencies to make that happen.  “An alderman’s support can be tremendously helpful,” said Ryan.

“We’re trying to work with the developers and the alderman, but there are so many backroom deals, and we have not been welcome at the table,” she said.

North Siders protest SRO closings

Lakeview residents will protest the loss of over 700 SRO units over the past year — and demand that elected officials join their efforts to convince a new landlord to discuss ways of preserving affordable housing — in a march and rally Sunday, February 10, starting at 1:20 p.m. at Wellington United Church, 615 W. Wellington.

Current and former SRO residents will join supporters from the Lakeview Action Coalition seeking a meeting with Jamie Purcell of BJB Properties, and calling on Aldermen James Cappelman (46th Ward), Tom Tunney (44th Ward) and Scott Waguespack (32nd) to step up on behalf of residents in their wards.

BJB has acquired five SROs in Lakeview over the past year, several of which have been emptied, rehabbed, and re-rented at double their previous rents, said Mary Tarullo of LAC.  At some properties, BJB gave 13-hour eviction notices to tenants, she said.

Most recently, on January 31 residents at the Chateau, 3838 N. Broadway, were given 30-day lease termination notices.  Five days later their hot water was turned off, and remained off for five days.  Residents say they were given no explanation for the loss of hot water.

Cappelman suggested residents contact the city for information on getting into homeless shelters, residents say.  “We think that’s an egregious misuse of city resources — to be assisting a landlord in displacing tenants from his buildings,” Tarullo commented.

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Lathrop plans: little preservation, big TIF

Three new plans for redeveloping Lathrop Homes fall far short of the project’s stated goal of historic preservation – to the point that developers will pass up tens of millions of dollars in federal historic preservation tax credits.

Instead, they plan to ask for $30 million or more from a new TIF district.

The plans have garnered widespread local opposition due to heavy increases in density and congestion.

CHA and Lathrop Community Partners will present three scenarios at open houses (Thursday, November 15, 3 to 8 p.m., and Saturday, November 17, 12 to 4 p.m.) at New Life Community Church, 2958 N. Damen.

At 4:15 p.m. on Thursday, Lathrop residents and neighbors will hold a press conference to denounce all the scenarios and the lack of any meaningful community engagement.

Already thirteen neighborhood associations have signed onto a letter to CHA from Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) calling for rejection of all three plans due to excessive density and lack of public participation.

And Tuesday, Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) sent an e-mail blast announcing the open houses and saying, “I do not believe that any of the individual scenarios on the table are an acceptable plan to move Lathrop Homes forward.”

Total demolition

In fact, one of the scenarios would almost certainly fail to win regulatory approval.

Dubbed the “Delta Greenscapes” scenario, it calls for demolition of all of Lathrop’s low-rise, historic buildings.

But since Lathrop was named to the National Register of Historic Places in April, any demolition involving federal funds must be approved by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation.  And CHA will use federal funds to cover the costs of rehabbing and operating public housing at Lathrop.

“Clearly, demolishing everything would not meet preservation guidelines and would rarely be an  approveable action under the federal program,” said Michael Jackson, chief architect for preservation services at IHPA, who notes that nothing has been submitted to his agency.

Approval might be forthcoming in cases involving extreme deterioration and functional obsolescence, but “I can’t see that logic applying here,” he said. “The essence of the Lathrop project is historic preservation.  It’s been identified as a historic property, and the development team has been given that direction.”

Indeed, the RFQ under which LCP was selected states that the developer “shall consider preservation one of the priorities of the revitalization.”

“What they’re pulling is a typical developer’s trick,” said Jonathan Fine of Preservation Chicago.  “We’re going to show you something so god-awful that when we walk it back to something slightly less god-awful, the community will think it’s won something.”

Developers prefer TIF

Despite the RFQ’s request for developers with experience using historic tax credits, none of the plans are likely to qualify for the credits, which cover 20 percent of a project’s costs – in this case, tens of millions of dollars.  That’s what developers told aldermen in August, said Paul Sajovek, Waguespack’s chief of staff.

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Charge city demolitions ‘destroying our neighborhoods’

The city’s program of demolishing vacant homes is just “creating more destruction in our neighborhoods” and not making areas any safer, according to leaders in impacted communities.

“There is no community imput or transparency,” said Charles Brown, a leader with Action Now.  “They are just coming in and creating more destruction in our neighborhoods.”

“Vacant lots are just as dangerous as vacant buildings,” said Brown, a retired police officer and Englewood resident.  “We need to build communities back up instead of knocking them down.”

He spoke as Mayor Emanuel announced the city has demolished the 200th home in what’s being billed as an anti-gang initiative.  There are over 15,000 vacant properties in Chicago.

“This top-down approach to the vacant building problems is just wiping out our neighborhoods,” said Action Now president Michelle Young.  “We want to bring families back into these homes and have the city invest in long-term solutions instead of quick fixes that don’t work.”

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Rebuild neighborhoods by rehabbing vacant homes

West Side residents will meet Thursday night to discuss a proposal from Action Now to establish a Chicago Housing Trust that would rehab vacant buildings as affordable rentals (Thursday, October 25, 6 p.m., Penn Elementary, 1616 S. Avers).

At a South Side meeting last week, residents spoke up about the problems associated with vacant properties.  Action Now leader Charles Brown told about seeing a man taking a young girl into a vacant building; Brown gathered a few neighbors and went to her rescue.

The group has opposed an “anti-violence initiative” by Mayor Emanuel under which over a hundred vacant homes have been demolished, instead proposing a public-private effort they’ve dubbed “Rebuild Chicago.”

“Why tear them down,” said Action Now leader Adeline Bracey.  “We don’t need any more vacant lots.”  She called for a moratorium on demolitions.  “Let’s look at the property and if it’s sound, why not rehab it?”

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‘Planning for demolition’ at Altgeld Gardens

Over objections from residents – and despite assurances that residents will be consulted – CHA is submitting an annual plan to HUD that includes $7.3 million for “planning for demolition” of one-third of the public housing units at Altgeld Gardens.

The move comes as the citywide CHA resident leaders’ organization has called for a moratorium on demolition and for rehabbing unoccupied units at Altgeld and at other remaining traditional developments.

It comes as the need for low-income housing continues to grow, while CHA public housing production has slowed dramatically, and the city produces a handful of low-income units annually under its affordable housing plan.

And it comes as housing activists who’ve exposed CHA’s receipt of HUD operating funds for unoccupied housing units are revealing a new no-strings funding stream from HUD – capital subsidies which continue for years for units that have been demolished.

Plan first, talk later

On Tuesday, the CHA board approved the annual plan under HUD’s Moving To Work program.  According to the plan: “After reassessing future developments needs at [Altgeld Gardens and Murray Homes], CHA has determined that it will undertake planning for the demolition of the remaining 648 non-rehabilitated unoccupied units.”

CHA has budgeted $7.3 million for “planning for demolition” at Altgeld, according to the document.  Rehab of 1,300 units at the Far South Side development was completed in 2010.

Last week People for Community Recovery, an organization of Altgeld residents, received assurance from CHA chief Charles Woodyard that no demolition would occur prior to a community planning process, scheduled to kick off with a town hall meeting next month.  Woodyard responded after the group handed Mayor Emanuel a letter asking him to intervene to save Altgeld’s housing, said Cheryl Johnson, executive director of PCR.

“It would be more reassuring for us if they took [funding for demolition] out of the plan,” she said.

“It’s backwards,” said Leah Levinger of the Chicago Housing Initiative, a coalition of community organizations working with tenants in federally-backed housing.  “Why not have the conversation first, before you submit a plan to HUD?”

“There’s no evidence these buildings are not structurally sound or that it’s not cost effective to rehab,” she added.  “Until there is, demolition seems senseless and wasteful.”

Moratorium

The CHA’s Central Advisory Council, comprising elected representatives of public housing developments, calls for a moratorium on demolition in a recent report outlining recommendations for the current “recalibration” of CHA’s Plan for Transformation.

Citing decreases in federal funding and a growing shortage of low-income housing, CAC calls on CHA to prioritize preservation of public housing, “specifically rehabilitation and reconfiguration of existing CHA units.”  Rehab is significantly more cost-effective and involves far fewer development hurdles, CAC notes.

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