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Report: CPS officials flee Avondale

It looks like the community proposal prepared jointly by parents at Avondale and Logandale (see previous post) will not be considered by CPS – unless the Board of Education decides tomorrow that, as Ron Huberman told the City Council last year, the process is flawed and the parents deserve a say in the future of their children’s schools. Read the rest of this entry »

A curious case: Avondale and Logandale

Of all the school actions to be considered by the Board of Education this week, the consolidation of Avondale Elementary and Logandale Middle School may be the most curious. Read the rest of this entry »

New housing in Humboldt Park is green, affordable

With the housing crisis still growing, Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation is celebrating the opening of Rosa Parks Apartments in Humboldt Park – while other affordable housing initiatives, including the Zapata Apartments and an ordinance to provide TIF funding citywide, gain momentum.

Governor Quinn will join elected officials and community leaders at an opening ceremony tomorrow (Thursday, June 10) at 10 a.m. at 541 N. Homan.

Comprising eight new buildings sited on long-vacant lots in the vicinity of Homan and Ohio, the Rosa Parks Apartments contain 94 units of one- to four-bedroom rental apartments and will be affordable to residents making below 50 percent of area median income, with Chicago Low Income Housing Trust Fund support for very-low income tenants.

It’s Bickerdike’s first comprehensively-designed green development, with solar panels, geothermal heating and cooling, and green roofs, among other features.

The $27 million project received $3.5 million in TIF funds and has been cited by the Sweet Home Chicago Coalition in support of an ordinance that would dedicate 20 percent of TIF funds to affordable housing (see last year’s Newstip).  Support among aldermen is steadily growing and approaching enough votes to pass the ordinance, said Luis Padial of Bickerdike.

Padial also said that supporters yesterday delivered over 3,100 signatures in support of the Zapata Apartments, a joint project of Bickerdike and the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (see Newstips), which has met vocal opposition from some condo owners.

He said Ald. Robert Maldonado (26th Ward) and Rey Colon (35th) both support the project, and they expect to win zoning changes in the City Council this summer.  “We hope to close on the deal by the end of this year and begin construction next year,” Padial said.  Legal challenges to the project should be resolved in the next few months, he said.

Census ambassadors hit the streets

There can be a lot of apprehension about the Census, especially in immigrant communities – and many folks may not know that it’s used to decide how to allocate resources; more population often means more federal dollars.

Logan Square residents, including parent mentors at neighborhood schools, will get a short training and then hit the streets as neighbor-to-neighbor ambassadors, in an event sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.  It starts ata 10 a.m. on Friday, Feburary 5, at Funston Elementary School, 2010 N. Central Park.


On Saturday, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights will launch a large-scale door-to-door effort to reach out to Asian, South Asian, Latin American, Polish and Arab communities to ensure that immigrants are counted in Census 2010.

Immigrants may unnecessarily fear legal sanctions here, and mistrust may also result from census methods used in their homelands, but there are over $400 billion in federal funds allocated to schools, clinics, libraries, and other many services based on the count, according to ICIRR.

Elected officials will join leaders of ICIRR, Chinese American Service League, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Asian American Institute, and LSNA, among others, to kick off the campaign on Saturday, February 6, at 10:30 a.m. at Casa Moreles, 2015 S. Morgan.

Questions remain at Lathrop Homes

In inviting developers to submit qualifications for work on Lathrop Homes yesterday, CHA officials broke a promise, residents said.

They’d promised no decisions until the working group, which was convened by CHA to guide revitalization at Lathrop, came to an agreement, said Resident Advisory Council president Robert Davidson, who is a member of the group.

Said Davidson in a statement, “Consensus was promised, but not reached.”

CHA’s William Little told WBEZ,  “We want to attempt to achieve the broadest possible consensus.”  He added, “For the most part.”

Advocates who had a quick look at the RFQ suggested the concerns of residents and their supporters had some impact.

It doesn’t require a development plan to project a profit, and instead of requiring 1200 new units, it indicates a range of 800 to 1200 units.  Instead of locking in a mix of one-third each of public, affordable, and market-rate housing, it talks about one-third public housing with the rest on a range of affordability, focused on 30 to 160 percent of area median income.

That could open the door to nonprofit developers committed to affordable housing and preservation at the 925-unit development, located at Diversy and Clybourn.

Residents, alumni, community groups including the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, and preservationists, emphasizing “the humane scale, excellent design and landscape, and history of racial diversity” at Lathrop Homes, have called on CHA for 100 percent affordable redevelopment – with half of the units remaining as as public housing – and for historic preservation.

CHA touted their requirement that developers meet green building standards, but Lathrop alumni leader Scott Shaffer pointed out that “tearing down existing structures instead of rehabbing them is not green.”

Said Shaffer: “A plan for 1200 units would turn a successful low-rise development with ample green space into a high-rise complex that would tower over the surrounding neighborhood.”

Reunion at Lathrop Homes

What started last fall as a few old friends talking about getting together has snowballed (with the help of a Facebook page) into a reunion of hundreds of former residents of Lathrop Homes this weekend – and connections with current residents who are working to preserve the historic CHA development as affordable housing.

Six hundred former residents are expected for a dinner dance tomorrow night at the White Eagle Banquet Hall in Niles (October 17, 6 to 11 p.m.). The event will raise funds for the Daniel Cotter Boys and Girls Club, where many participants belonged while growing up in the low-rise development along the Chicago River. During the day they’ll gather for tours of Lathrop Homes and nearby Schneider School and an open house at the Cotter Club, starting at noon.

“It was very positive growing up there,” said Jose Zayas, whose family lived at Lathrop from the 1950s to the ’70s, and who still lives nearby. “It still is for the families that are still there.”

“It was a neighborhood; everyone knew each other,” he recalled. “There was all the green space. And there were these anchor institutions, the boys’ club, the Crane Childcare Center, the churches….Looking back, it was the families and it was the institutions that are still there.”

The high rate of vacancies, as CHA has refused to rent out vacated units, “impacts the residents in not really having a neighborhood,” he said. Currently only about 200 units out of a total of 925 are occupied.

“It’s really sad,” said Scott Shaffer, a Humboldt Park resident who cochairs Lathrop Homes Alumini Chicago, of the vacancies. When he visits now, he says, “it really hits you…It’s something so great that they want to take away.”

While CHA’s final plans for Lathrop are still under discussion — it’s the only remaining development listed as “to be determined” in the tenth year of the agency’s ten-year plan for transformation — the current parameters would require replacing existing buildings with new construction at much greater density.

As they’ve learned of the threat to Lathrop Homes — listed as endanged by Preservation Chicago (pdf) and Landmarks Illinois – Shaffer and several other alumni have joined Zayas, who was working with residents and community groups on the Lathrop Leadership Team to preserve the buildings.

They say the current scale and setting is ideal — low-rise brick buildings in a “garden city” design, with landscaping (designed by the lengendary Jens Jensen) now mature and lush — and top-notch supportive nonprofits are on-site. (The Crane Center, which moved to Lathrop Homes in 1963, was founded in 1907 by Jane Addams, who was a colleague of Julia Lathrop at Hull House; among other distinctions, Lathrop was appointed as the first director of the federal children’s bureau when it was founded in 1912.) Preservation would allow developers to make use of generous historical rehab tax credits.

And they say that focusing on public and affordable housing is appropriate in a neighborhood where a wave of high-end condo development has cost residents thousands of units of affordable rentals. CHA’s insistence on including market-rate housing in the redevelopment makes the plan dependent on volatile market conditions, and new construction would expose residents to even longer delays.

CHA’s request for qualifications should be recast so that it is open to nonprofit developers of affordable housing, they say.

“These buildings are good, solid, beautiful, historic buildings,” said reunion organizer Betty Howard. “There’s a dire need for low-income housing, and this area has been set aside for that purpose since the 1930s.”

(It was following protests organized by Howard and some friends in the mid-60s that the Lathrop Homes Boys Club began admitting girls. “We wanted access and we got it,” she said.)

Zayas says he agrees with residents’ demands (see Newstips 10-22-08) that vacant units be occupied. “It’s a moral issue, having 700 units shut when you have people who desperately need that housing right now,” he said.

Current residents will be among those speaking at tomorrow night’s event; the hope is to encourage more alumni to get involved in preservation efforts, organizers say.


Film premier: “War on the Family”; citywide meeting on school closings; gay rights rallies; Cardinal George at CeaseFire in Logan Square; a local Muslim leader on the U.S. and Afghanistan; Chicago lawyers on torture at Guantanamo and in Chicago; Jewish peace groups meet on Gaza crisis.

Read the rest of this entry »

Lathrop Residents: Lease Vacant Units

Lathrop Homes residents and supporters will rally Thursday, October 23, for a new proposal to lease vacant apartments at the CHA development. Lathrop Homes Local Advisory Council president Juanita Stevenson was scheduled to present the proposal to the CHA board today.

On Thursday residents and supporters from the Lathrop LAC, Lathrop Leadership Team and Logan Square Neighborhood Association will march through Lathrop Homes starting at 4 p.m. at Clybourn, Wellington and Leavitt, and rally outside a vacant home at 5 p.m.

Two-thirds of Lathrop Homes’ 900 units are vacant. Recent residents report that many are in “pretty good shape,” and some have been rehabbed within the past 15 years, said LSNA organizer John McDermott. The groups are proposing that 300 vacant units be leased, and has identified a variety of possible funding sources.

“Leaving units vacant leaves them at risk of break-in, vandalism, and arson,” he said. And it costs CHA in lost rent revenues.

CHA stopped filling vacancies at Lathrop Homes in 1999, when it announced its Plan For Transformation aimed at mixed-income redevelopment. In 2006 the agency said it intended to demolish the development and rebuild 1200 new units, including market rate, affordable, and public housing. Shortly thereafter the working group discussing plans for Lathrop Homes was disbanded, and its future is still listed as “to be determined” by the CHA — the last development with that designation.

“Ms. Stevenson keeps asking when will the meetings resume and we get different answers,” said Tami Love, an LSNA organizer at Lathrop. “They say the working group will resume when [CHA] figure[s] out what they’re going to do with Lathrop; or they say they’re out of money and they’re not going to move forward with anything.”

Meanwhile the CHA’s Plan For Transformation is now ten years or more behind schedule, and the housing downturn has further slowed plans that hinge on the sale of market-rate housing. The plan “seems to be falling apart,” Love said. At the same time, “the homeless problem is getting worse and worse.”

“Keeping these units empty in the midst of a housing crisis is a terrible waste,” said resident Cynthia Scott, a member of the Lathrop Leadership Team. “Leasing 300 units would help families avoid homelessness and reduce the crime and maintenance problems that come with vacancies.”

Unlike other public housing developments which were often isolated, Lathrop Homes are close to transit, manufacturing and retail jobs, social services and good schools, Love said.

Ultimately, residents and supporters are calling for 100 percent affordable redevelopment of the Homes — mixing public housing with affordable rentals and home ownership, with no market-rate component, McDermott said. “It’s in a neighborhood surrounded by market-rate housing, a neighborhood that has lost thousands of units of affordable housing,” he said.

First Ward Ald. Manny Flores has backed their plan.

Preservation groups have called for saving the 70-year-old buildings, built by the New Deal’s Public Works Administration, as one of the last examples of the city’s early public housing. Last year Preservation Chicago listed Lathrop Homes as one of Chicago’s most threatened buildings. The group’s designation (pdf) noted:

“Julia Lathrop Homes is the best public housing development Chicago ever built, representing a racially mixed, remarkably stable community for generations of Chicagoans. Beautifully sited along the Chicago River with a magnificent and mature landscape, the buildings are low-rise and gently ornamented, creating an intimate, humane atmosphere. The development is small scale, low-density and well integrated with the surrounding neighborhood.”

Using the existing structures would minimize disruption for current residents and allow the Cotter Boys and Girls Club and the Mary Crane Center, which offers preschool and child care center, both now located in Lathrop Homes to continue operating. Founded by Jane Addams in 1907, the Crane Center moved to Lathrop in 1963, the same year the Boys and Girls Club opened there. This past April, Cotter Club member Krystal Lewis, a Lathrop resident who was a senior at Prosser Career Academy at the time, was named Youth of the Year for Illinois by Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

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