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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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Chicago’s ‘feedback loop’ for violence

The Sun Times reports Saturday on Ondelee Perteet at the sentencing hearing for the young man who shot and paralyzed him in 2009. Ondelee shows impressive maturity and generosity of spirit.

At the Chicago Reporter, Kari Lydersen talks at length with the 17-year-old West Side resident and his mother about the personal costs of surviving violence: Ondelee struggles to maintain his positive attitude, and his mother struggles to care for him and pay the bills.

It’s part two the Reporter’s “Too Young To Die” series by Lydersen and photographer Carlos Javier Ortiz, and it’s part of the Local Reporting Initiative, which you can follow at the Community News Project blog.

Classmates of Ondelee interviewed him for a video by the Westside Writers Project, another LRI participant, in 2010.

Last week the first report of the Reporter’s series showed that Chicago’s homicide rate is double that of New York City. At Chicago Magazine’s The 312 blog, Whet Moser has a fascinating piece looking at differences between the two cities that may help account for that.

New York has less than a third the number of gang members that Chicago has, and various experts suggest this could have to do with differences between the two cities in public housing and incarceration policies.

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Lathrop residents pray for preservation

Residents of Lathrop Homes, joined by religious leaders, are planning to march through the threatened CHA development Thursday night, stopping to pray for the preservation of their historic neighborhood.

They’re concerned that as CHA seals off sections of the development, buildings will deteriorate.  They’re calling on CHA to maintain the condition of vacant units.

Read the rest of this entry »

Thousands of rehabbed units vacant in CHA

The Chicago Housing Authority has thousands of vacant units of housing, much of it rehabbed but left unoccupied, according to a citywide housing coalition.

The Chicago Housing Initiative will release data showing “a growing epidemic of vacant public housing units” outside the CHA board meeting, 2915 N Leavitt, at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, September 20.

Calling it “a senseless waste of desperately needed housing,” the coalition is calling on CHA to immediately begin leasing all rehabbed and habitable public housing units.  The group is seeking a meeting with CHA interim chief Carlos Ponce.

According to the Housing Initiative, the CHA has over 6,000 vacant units in family and senior housing, including more than 3,300 rehabbed units. The group’s figures show that only 68 percent of CHA’s family housing is occupied.

Meanwhile there are over 47,000 families on CHA’s waiting list, in addition to thousands of seniors.

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Residents fight Cabrini Rowhouse evictions

Cabrini residents vowed to fight a CHA order evicting 33 rowhouse tenants, citing a previous federal ruling barring relocation at Cabrini without first negotiating with the local advisory council.

“There are going to be legal challenges, there are going to be protests, there are going to be a lot of things,” said Carole Steele, president of the Cabrini-Green Local Advisory Council.

At the end of August, CHA gave 33 families remaining in non-rehabbed units of the Frances Cabrini Rowhouses 180 days to relocate.  About 150 of 586 units in the 1942 red-brick low-rise development were rehabbed in 2008 and 2009, and these will remain occupied.

Steele said the LAC was informed of the action in a meeting a couple of hours before the notices went out.

In 2008 a federal court barred CHA from evicting 385 families at Cabrini, citing an existing agreement that requires negotiations with the residents’ council over the relocation process, said Richard Wheelock of the Legal Assistance Foundation, who represents the Cabrini-Green LAC.

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What now for Lathrop Homes?

What does the CHA board’s recent approval of a development team for Lathrop Homes – which includes nonprofit and for-profit developers – mean for Lathrop residents’ vision of historic preservation of the low-rise development as affordable and public housing?

“There has been no decision about what is going to be built,” said Joy Aruguete, executive director of Bickerdike Redevelopment Corp., part of the selected development team.

“We’re going into an open planning process.  All voices will be heard,” she said.  “I think our development team will roll with where things go.”

The development team was selected under a request for qualifications (pdf) produced by a working group of stakeholders convened by CHA – but issued over the objections of residents and community groups in the working group.  They had called for a plan focused on public and affordable housing, citing the predominance of new luxury development in the area.

Lathrop Local Advisory Council President Robert Davidson, a working group member, wrote to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan calling on him “to ask the CHA not to issue an RFQ until the Working Group reaches consensus – the basis for decision-making that we agreed upon in our first meeting,” Residents Journal reported.

The RFQ departs somewhat from the cookie-cutter formula of the CHA’s plan for transformation – one-third each public, affordable, and luxury housing – calling instead for a range of 800 to 1200 units to developed, with not more than a third as public housing.

It calls for developers with experience in historic preservation using federal preservation tax credits, and sets the goal of making Lathrop the first CHA development to gain LEED certification for green design and construction.

(A previous request for proposals, drafted by CHA staff and aimed at demolishing Lathrop and replacing it with new construction, was withdrawn following objections from residents and supporters — and also from HUD, which pointed out that since Lathrop has been deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, it couldn’t be demolished using federal funds without thorough consideration of preservation alternatives.)

‘No predetermined plan’

In a statement to Preservation in December, CHA said that “no predetermined plan exists regarding unit distribution, income mixes or total number of units.  Such a determination can only occur when the working group completes its task and the planning process begins in earnest with the selection of a development partner and the engagement of the broader community.”

But  noting CHA’s earlier commitment to keep 400 public housing units at Lathrop and the RFQ’s one-third limitation, John McDermott of Logan Square Neighborhood Association fears that CHA’s expectations remain at 1200 units, which he says would make preservation practically impossible.

Aruguete talks about Bickerdike’s long experience in engaging residents in community planning and promoting “community development by and for the benefit of community residents.” She says the development team “hopes to be able to build some bridges” and “get to a win-win outcome.”

Bickerdike has long worked with LSNA on affordable housing issues.  But Aruguete may be missing something when she says, “I think the community and residents are largely focused on the affordability issue as the only question.”

In fact, residents and community groups are backing a preservation plan out of a combination of quality-of-life issues, historical pride, and practical concerns.

Residents back preservation

Last December, the Lathrop LAC, LSNA, and residents and community supporters in the Lathrop Leadership Team endorsed a preservation plan (pdf) drawn up by architects working for Landmarks Illinois in consultation with residents.

That plan would reconfigure existing buildings with larger units, producing about 800 apartments where 925 now exist.  It meets accessibility requirements and could attain LEED certification, said Jim Peters of Landmarks Illinois.

With a higher-density redevelopment, “it would be very difficult to preserve very many of the buildings,” said Peters, especially with requirements for parking and access roads.

“We would lose a lot of open space – they’d probably have to tear down the park,” said longtime resident Cynthia Scott, a member of the Lathrop Leadership Team.  “If you’re talking about 1200 units, you have to go high up – six stories or even more – and it’s probably not going to be built as well” as what’s there now.

“The most environmentally sustainable way to revitalize Lathrop is to use historic preservation,” said Scott Shaffer of the Lathrop Homes Alumni Chicago.

“These buildings are so beautiful, and not just that – construction today is just not comparable,” said Shaffer, who is a bricklayer.  “Today’s construction materials are just not as good.”

“It makes no sense to demolish and dispose of 30 structurally-sound brick buildings and truck them to a landfill, only to replace them with buildings constructed of all new materials, and all the energy that consumes,” said Peters.

And preservation would cost a lot less than demolition and high-density new construction – at least half as much, and quite possibly less than that.

Mixed-income plans stall

Including newly-built market-rate housing “makes it much more complicated,” McDermott said. “It would involve many levels of financing in the middle of a very difficult economy; it would involve multiple phases of construction.”

In contrast to an affordable preservation rehab, which  could be accomplished in three to five years, it would mean “the process could easily stretch out ten, fifteen years or more” for a community that’s already been “in limbo for over a decade,” he said.

Shaffer points to mixed-income redevelopment projects that are part of the CHA’s plan for transformation and are years behind schedule. Several are also in financial trouble: last year the city was forced to bail out developers at Cabrini-Green and Lakefront Crescent due to slow sales and elusive private financing.

Also stalled, as the Chicago Journal reports, is the Roosevelt Square development intended to replace CHA’s ABLA Homes.

It’s particularly resonant for Lathrop supporters.  ABLA included Jane Addams Homes, which along with Lathrop was one of the three original CHA developments built by the New Deal’s  Public Works Administration in 1937-38.  And Roosevelt Square developers include two of Bickerdike’s partners at Lathrop, the nonprofit affordable developer Heartland Housing, and lead developer Related Midwest, a developer of luxury high-rises and adaptive reuse.

There wasn’t much adaptive reuse at Addams: of 32 existing buildings, only one remains; funds are now being raised to restore it as the National Public Housing Museum.

Six years after construction started on Roosevelt Square, less than one-third of its promised public housing units are completed, and even lower percentages of market rate and affordable housing are done, according to the Journal.

Related is getting a bailout too: in March, the CHA board approved a $3.4 million loan to help Related Midwest with pre-construction costs for Roosevelt Square’s second phase, which “was supposed to be completed by now,” the Journal reported.

According to the Journal, Related has also failed to come up with funds promised in 2007 to restore WPA sculptures from Jane Addams Homes’ Animal Court.

Related Midwest recently cancelled two high-rise condo developments in Chicago and defaulted on a $28 million loan to finance a huge condo development in Tucson, Crain’s reports.

‘A beautiful job’

In sharp contrast, restoration of Trumbull Park Homes on the far South Side – the third sister of Lathrop and Addams, built in 1938 – took just three years and was completed three years ago.   It remains 100 percent public housing.

“CHA did a beautiful job at Trumbull,” Peters said.  “And it’s hard to say it can’t work at Lathrop after you see Trumbull.”  He points out that demand for land is substantially greater around Lathrop – but that’s one reason to preserve it.  “It’s ironic that now that there are jobs around there and it’s a desirable area, they want to take it away.”

Preservation would bring a major financing advantage – the federal historic preservation tax credit, which would cover 20 percent of development costs.  CHA’s RFQ mentions the tax credit as a potential source of financing.  But of three schemes sketched out in a 2008 site analysis by CHA – new construction, mixed new and old, and full conservation – only the latter would qualify, Peters said.

“It wouldn’t be eligible if they only preserved a few buildings, or if they’re going to be plopping new buildings around the existing ones,” he said.  “They’ll destroy the character – the way the buildings relate to each other and to the open space — and that’s what makes it historic.”

Lathrop was the crown jewel of its class – a national model for successful, human-scale public housing, Peters said.  “The site plan was really a model because it did such a good job of creating interesting architecture and layout and public space,” he said.  “It just worked well – and it’s always been a successful community — because it’s well-designed and well-built.

“Unfortunately its lessons were lost” in the high-rise projects built in the 1950s and ’60s – and the lessons are in danger of being lost again, if Lathrop is made a high-density development.  “It works because it has open space,” Peters said.

Lathrop Homes was determined to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places in 1994; at a December 10 meeting in Springfield, the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council will vote on Lathrop’s nomination to the Register.  If approved as expected by the National Park Service, the redevelopment project would be eligible for the preservation tax credit.

Enough luxury housing

The bottom line for many Lathrop supporters is that, given all the costs, market-rate housing just doesn’t make sense for Lathrop Homes.  It’s located in an area where affordable housing has been steadily disappearing; 34,000 rental apartments were lost in the area between 2000 and 2007, mainly to condo conversion — and today many thousands of high-end condos sit unsold around Lathrop.

“We’re completely surrounded by condos, everywhere you look,” said Scott.

“It’s not just poor people, it’s middle-income people who are losing jobs and being foreclosed on,” said Shaffer.  “These are people who could use these apartments today.”

Even splitting the development, preserving a section and putting new construction on the rest of the site, would be “a tremendous waste of a resource” in an area where affordable housing is badly needed and land is extremely hard to come by, McDermott said.

After all these years, CHA’s push on Lathrop comes at a curious time, he points out.  “In a few months we’ll have a new mayor and a new City Council, and we’re going to have to take a new look at the whole plan for transformation in light of the economy and the housing crisis,” he said.

Look at CHA’s past plans for Lathrop:  in 2000, in the first version of the PFT, CHA said there would be 750 units of public housing there after revitalization; six years later, the agency announced plans to demolish the entire development and replace it with 1200 units of new construction.

The only thing that hasn’t changed is the determination of residents and their supporters to save Lathrop. And they intend to be fully involved in the planning process now commencing.  Who knows what’s in store for the oldest – and arguably the most successful and significant — property in CHA’s portfolio?

CHA: Lathrop, Ickes, and more segregation

This new video from the Chicago Rehab Network is remarkably effective, illuminating the lives and concerns of residents of Lathrop Homes – and their vision for preservation of the CHA development as affordable housing – and doing it in less than ten minutes.

It’s the second video in CRN’s new “Talking to Walls” project (the first was on Hollywood Homes, affordable housing for the elderly in Edgewater) – aimed at highlighting the need for policies that foster a housing market able to respond to the growing demand for affordable housing.

Meanwhile Megan Cottrell at True Slant notes that the CHA is now considering demolition of the final three buildings at the Harold Ickes Homes.

Last year, when CHA announced plans to begin demolition (six of nine buildings have been torn down), Cottrell reported on residents’ frustration over CHA’s sudden shift in plans for the development, which had long been slated for rehab (and subsequently loaded with refugees from Robert Taylor Homes and Stateway Gardens, as the Chicago Reporter noted; Residents Journal documented the residents’ experiences, including a police crackdown on a longtime informal summer steppers gathering there).  And she covered CRN’s concern over CHA’s plan to use federal stimulus money for the demolition, since it provides little employment and actually worsens the housing crisis.

A CHA spokesperson told Newstips that no decision has been made on the future of what remains of the Ickes Homes.

On Monday a new report came out from a coalition of housing groups, finding that the concentration of federal rental subsidy voucher holders in segregated, high-poverty communities has increased over the ten years of CHA’s Plan for Transformation.

From a press release:  “Because these communities continue to struggle with high rates of unemployment, foreclosures, and above average rates of crime and poor health, voucher families do not currently have a real opportunity to live in healthy communities.”

The study is available from the Natalie P. Voorhees Center at UIC; it’s sponsored by the Illinois Assisted Housing Action and Research Project, a collaboration backed by Housing Action Illinois, the Latino Policy Forum, and the Shriver Center on Poverty Law.

For Ickes residents, it means they’ll be moved from an area primed for economic revival and close to downtown, out to isolated, racially and economically segregated neighborhoods – and it’s being done in the name of  a program that supposedly was intended to reduce concentrations of poverty.

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.”

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