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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.

Stimulus for Lathrop?

Kevin Jackson of the Chicago Rehab Network suggests that public housing capital improvement funds coming to the CHA from the stimulus bill be spent fixing up Lathrop Homes, according to Chitown Daily News.  Lathrop residents have called on CHA to lease vacant apartments (see last year’s Newstip).

Ideas for Obama

President-elect Barack Obama faces tremendous challenges, and local advocates and organizers — many of whom have worked with Obama over the years — offer a range of ideas on how to make the bailout work, address the foreclosure crisis, target economic stimulus to jobs and better transportation, and move forward on immigration, education, media reform and campaign financing.

In addition, some express concern over the prospect of administration positions for local establishment figures Rahm Emanuel, Valerie Jarrett and Arne Duncan.

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.

Crime maps

The map of South Shore shootings on page 1 of the Tuesday Tribune’s Metro section (the web story features a much simplified version) called to mind a discussion of maps in this month’s Atlantic.

The article is about the crime wave following the dispersal of public housing residents to far-flung neighborhoods in Memphis; it also talks about public housing demolition in Chicago.

A Memphis couple — a crime researcher and a housing researcher — discovered that the husband’s map of changing crime patterns mirrored the wife’s map of public housing displacement.

The article discusses the widely-heralded 1991 study of a small group of Chicago  public housing residents who showed signs of success after being vouchered out to suburbs.  But a large followup study produced results another researcher called “puzzling.”

“Today social scientists look back on the whole grand experiment” — replacing public housing with vouchers — and “use words like ‘baffling’ and ‘disappointing.'”

Public housing residents aren’t moving into low-poverty neighborhoods, they’re moving from high-poverty to moderate-poverty neighborhoods — a trend “likely to produce more bad neighborhoods and more total crime.”

“Nobody would claim vouchers, or any single factor, as the sole cause of rising crime. Crime did not rise in every city where housing projects came down. In cities where it did, many factors contributed: unemployment, gangs, rapid gentrification that dislocated tens of thousands of poor people not living in the projects. Still, researchers around the country are seeing the same basic pattern: projects coming down in inner cities and crime pushing outward, in many cases destabilizing cities or their surrounding areas. Dennis Rosenbaum, a criminologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told me that after the high-rises came down in Chicago, suburbs to the south and west – including formerly quiet ones – began to see spikes in crime; nearby Maywood’s murder rate has nearly doubled in the past two years.”

The author of the 1991 Chicago study, Northwestern sociologist James Rosenbaum, now says: “People were moved too quickly, without any planning, and without any thought about where they would live, and how it would affect the families or the places.”

The federal HOPE VI program which funded the CHA’s Plan for Transformation now “stands as a bitter footnote to this story. What began as an ‘I Have a Dream’ social crusade has turned into an urban-redevelopment project. Cities fell so hard for the idea of a new, spiffed-up, gentrified downtown that this vision came to crowd out other goals.

“‘People ask me if HOPE VI was successful, and I have to say, “You mean the buildings or the people?”‘ said Laura Harris, a HOPE VI evaluator in Memphis. ‘It became seen as a way to get rid of eyesores and attract rich people downtown.’

“Phyllis Betts told me that when she was interviewing residents leaving the housing projects, ‘they were under the impression they could move into the new developments on site.’ Residents were asked to help name the new developments and consult on the architectural plans. Yet to move back in, residents had to meet strict criteria: if they were not seniors, they had to be working, or in school, or on disability. Their children could not be delinquent in school.

“Most public-housing residents were scared off by the criteria, or couldn’t meet them, or else they’d already moved and didn’t want to move again. The new HOPE VI developments aimed to balance Section 8 and market-rate residents, but this generally hasn’t happened.”

Residents Call on CHA to Open Units

[Posted 9-8-05, Updated 9-14-05]

CHA is offering 500 units to house up to 1,000 seniors displaced by Hurricane Katrina, but public housing residents are calling on the authority to do more.

In response to calls by resident leaders at several developments to open units for displaced families, Kim Johnson of CHA said that “CHA feels that it would be disrespectful to families who have suffered so much loss to place them in dilapidated public housing units that are slated for demolition.”

Cabrini leader Carol Steele say there are scores of newly rehabbed units among 1,200 vacant apartments there, and many more could be made habitable with as little as a day’s worth of rehab. Resident groups at Cabrini have offered volunteers to help prepare apartments for displaced families, said Deidre Brewster of the Coalition to Protect Public Housing.

“We have family members coming from Louisiana, and we have vacant rehabbed units and we want to offer family units to families that want to stay here,” Brewster said. Public housing in New Orleans has been inundated in the storm and subsequent flooding.

Lathrop Homes residents and supporters including members of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association and the Church of Good News were organizing fix-up crews and collecting donations of furniture, clothing, food and money after learning that CHA was planning to offer units there to displaced families, said Tami Love of LSNA. Three-fourths of the low-rise development at Clybourn and Damen are vacant. Days later the decision to offer the units was withdrawn, according to Rev. Edie Lenz of the Church of Good News.

In a September 13 letter to the Sun-Times, leaders of Rockwell Gardens reported that the resident management company there has more than 30 recently-renovated family units available for evacuees, and urged the CHA “to promptly begin planning so that those made homeless by the hurricane no longer have to suffer in temporary shelters.”

CHA subsequently informed the leaders “they’re not going to release the units,” said Peggy Godfrey of the Wardell Yotaghan Resident Management Corp. at Rockwell Gardens.

Governors in the Midwest have reportedly been asked to prepare for more than 30,000 refugees from the hurricane. Nationwide there are an estimated 1 million people displaced by the storm.

In the Chicago area, many displaced families are currently being moved into suburban mental health facilities. In the city, displaced families are being housed in homeless shelters.

Meanwhile, HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson called on public housing authorities to assist evacuees.

“We have had a number of public housing authorities nationwide, from as far away as Ohio and Pennsylvania, step up to this challenge and immediately start making all their vacant units accessible for displaced families,” said Jackson.

“We will be working with all the PHAs around the clock to help restore that sense of security a family has when there is a roof over their head.”

Teens Document Rockwell Gardens

A documentary on Rockwell Gardens by teens from the area will be screened at the James Jordan Boys and Girls Club, 2102 W. Monroe, on Thursday, August 11 at 6 p.m.

Fifteen teens in the Jordan Club’s summer apprentice program learned digital filmmaking techniques and interviewed longtime residents as well as business owners and community leaders around the west side public housing development, which is currently undergoing redevelopment. The teens worked with filmmaker Cookie Hughes, herself a native of Rockwell Gardens.

“It was fun — and it was dreadful,” said summer apprentice Kendra Hogan. “It was dreadful going out in such hot weather knocking on people’s doors” seeking interviews. “A lot of people don’t want to be interviewed.”

Hogan said she was surprised to learn “how beautiful the neighborhood used to be” and how in the early days of Rockwell Gardens, “everybody wanted to be here.”

“The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of Rockwell Gardens” will be presented to the community at a program marking the end of the Jordan Club’s summer activities.

Public housing and human rights

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States is considering appointing a Special Rapporteur on housing rights, following the testimony of Chicago activists and others at a hearing in Washington, D.C., on March 4.

Participants will report back at a meeting on the morning of Friday, March 18, UIC’s Circle Center, 750 S. Halsted.

Cabrini Green resident leader Carole Steele, president of the Coalition to Protect Public Housing, testified at the meeting along with activists from Canada and Brazil. She cited a recent study finding hundreds of former CHA residents staying in homeless shelters after being forced out by demolitions.

The right to adequate housing is enshrined in the UN human rights convention and in OAS conventions which are binding on the United States.

Joining Steele on the 18th will be Professor Daniel Rothenberg of the Human Rights Institute at the DePaul School of Law, along with others who will discuss federal budget cuts affecting housing.

The commissioners encouraged participants to follow up on the issue by filing individual petitions, said Rene Heyback, an attorney with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.



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