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Altgeld residents oppose demolition plans

Residents of Altgeld Gardens say they were blind-sided by a new CHA plan to demolish a third of their Far South Side public housing development, and they are organizing to oppose it.

Led by People for Community Recovery, they’ll call for reconsideration of the plan – and a community-led redevelopment plan – at a hearing on CHA’s annual redevelopment report, Tuesday, September 11, 6 p.m., at the Charles A. Hayes Center, 4859 S. Wabash.

In the agency’s 2000 Plan For Transformation, CHA committed to redeveloping all of Altgeld Garden’s 1,998 units as public housing.  But in an annual update just issued, CHA said it has budgeted $7.3 million to demolish 648 units at Altgeld that have yet to be rehabbed.

“At a time when there is a housing crisis in the city of Chicago, what are they thinking?” said Cheryl Johnson of PCR.  “This is not right.  They are not going to get away with this without a fight.”

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Two actions target Fannie Mae

Four years after Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were put under federal conservatorship, actions tomorrow and next Monday are targeting the agencies for blocking principal reduction in mortgage refinances.

On Wednesday, September 5, Occupy Chicago will rally at 5 p.m. at Fannie Mae’s office at 1 S. Wacker, where families facing eviction will speak out, and then march to President Obama’s campaign headquarters, 130 E. Randolph, where protestors will be chained together with balls representing mortgage debt.

It’s part of three days of actions targeting “Obama’s failures as president” and “how both Obama and Romney fail to represent the interests of the 99 Percent,” according to a Facebook announcement.

On Monday, September 10, local community groups joined by Occupy Our Homes groups from Minneapolis and Detroit will march from Daley Plaza at noon and rally in front of Fannie Mae (1 S. Wacker) at 1 p.m. and Freddie Mac (333 W. Wacker) at 2.

That protest is part of a national day of action against Fannie and Freddie by community groups working to stop foreclosures in several cities, said Stuart Schussler of Centro Autonomo of Albany ParkChicago Anti-Eviction Campaign is also participating.

Centro Autonomo protests at bank branches to support families in foreclosure who are seeking loan modifications. Principal reduction is a vital component of affordable loan mods, Schussler said.

“Sometimes we get a favorable response from the bank” that’s servicing the mortgage, but but if Fannie or Freddie holds the morgage – as they do in a large proportion of cases – “they’ll say it’s out of our hands,” he said.

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Lathrop Homes highlight CHA vacancy boondoggle

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 – 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 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 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 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 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 that passed federal inspections last year.  As Newstips noted last year, an earlier CHI report showed that hundreds of CHA units have remained offline years after rehab was completed on them.

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Residents oppose demolitions

Mayor Emanuel has begun demolishing vacant buildings in his newest anti-crime effort, but an organization of residents in the affected communities says it won’t work — and there are better ways to deal with vacant buildings.

Action Now will hold a press conference in front of a vacant lot at 53rd and Laflin, Friday, July 13 at 10 a.m., to call on the city to stop demolition and instead use the new Chicago Infrastructure Trust to rehab and rent vacant buildings.

“Vacant lots are not any less dangerous than vacant buildings, and demolishing [buildings] won’t solve the crime problem,” said spokesperson Aileen Kelleher.

She points to the shooting Tuesday of a 14-year-old boy standing in a vacant lot in Roseland.  Last year Action Now held a protest in Humboldt Park at a vacant lot – left unsecured by mortgage holder Chase Bank — where a woman was raped.

One solution is stepped-up enforcement of the vacant properties ordinance, she said.

“If the city had held banks accountable with the vacant properties ordinance – if the banks had kept these properties up and secured them – we wouldn’t be at this point,” said Charles Brown, chair of Action Now’s neighborhood revitalization committee, which developed the Rebuild Chicago plan to finance rehab and rental.  (See yesterday’s post.)

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Action Now: Don’t demolish – rebuild

A community group is taking issue with Mayor Emanuel’s new plan to demolish vacant buildings that serve as gang havens.

Action Now is proposing an alternative strategy:  use the Chicago Infrastructure Trust to finance rehab of the buildings into affordable rentals.

Emanuel says his “message to gang members” is that “you will no longer find shelter in the city of Chicago.”

But according to Michelle Young, president of Action Now, “He’s really saying that working families will no longer find shelter in the city of Chicago.”

On Monday, Emanuel said the city has identified 200 buildings for possible demolition due to their “location in high-crime areas.”  His initiative covers Englewood, Lawndale, Grand Crossing, Garfield Park, and Little Village.

“All over the city there are blocks full of vacant homes,” Young said in a release. “Our neighborhoods have become ghost towns. The mayor is going in the wrong direction.

“The solution to the vacant property problem is not creating more destruction by demolishing buildings,” she said. “We must rebuild our communities by transforming vacant buildings into homes for families once again.”

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Affordable housing for Lincoln Park

Lakeview Action Coalition will unveil plans for Lincoln Park’s first affordable housing initiative in decades at its annual assembly Sunday.

More than 700 members of churches and other LAC affiliates are expected to meet with elected officials — including Congressman Danny Davis, State Senate President John Cullerton, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and several aldermen — on Sunday, May 6 at 2 p.m. at St. Paul’s United Church, 2335 N. Orchard.

Ald. Michele Smith and McCafferey Interests, developers of the Children’s Memorial Hospital site at Fullerton and Halsted, have agreed to include affordable housing requirements beyond the legal minimum in a planned development agreement for the property, LAC organizers said.

How far beyond remains under discussion.  LAC is pushing for 200 units with rents ranging below 40 percent and up to 120 percent of the metropolitan median, in order to house seniors as well as  neighborhood teachers and retail workers.

The best way to maximize affordable housing is to use the Nellie Black building at Orchard and Fullerton, an organizer said.  The 1931 red brick and masonry structure, built in 1931 to house nurses and interns, is one of six historic buildings on the site that Preservation Chicago has called for preserving.

In addition to affordable housing, LAC and the Children’s Memorial Redevelopment Coalition have called for an open planning process, adaptive reuse of historic structures, and sustainable design.

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Tenants to send bedbugs to bank

Tenants will have jars full of bedbugs — to deliver to the bank that owns their foreclosed apartment building — at a protest at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 28 at 5159 W. West End.

A new receiver for the building was appointed after tenants demanding basic maintenance declared a rent strike April 11, but tenants haven’t seen any improvements, said Elce Redmond of the South Austin Coalition.

Tenants are demanding that Peak Properties, the building receiver, and BMO/Harris bank, which foreclosed on the 32-unit building a year ago, agree to a public meeting to discuss maintenance issues.

“If Peak Properties and BMO/Harris Bank refuse to meet with us, we will take our bedbugs to their offices and homes,” said tenant leader Pamela Johnson in a release.

“Our building is infested with rats and bedbugs, our children are being bitten,”Johnson said.  “Our human rights and dignity are assaulted on a daily basis.”

Building problems include chipped paint, ceiling leaks, broken toilets, and holes in the floor, according to SAC.

Occupy Homes targets bank’s bad faith

Just as the Occupy movement gives voice to the widespread perception that our economic system isn’t fair and  doesn’t work for ordinary people, the growing movement to occupy homes responds to a foreclosure crisis caused by banks that are unresponsive and unfair to homeowners.

Case in point:  Sherri Norris.  She’s one of thousands of homeowners who’ve made good faith efforts to deal with mortgage troubles and been stonewalled and misled by banks.

Thursday she’ll announce that, with the support of her neighbors and of Communities United Against Foreclosure and Eviction, she’s staying in her home, despite an eviction order.

The announcement is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Thursday, December 8, at her home at 2029 S. 17th Avenue in Broadview, a near-west suburb.

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