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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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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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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: 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.

Human Rights, Race, and Torture in Chicago

With Chicago taxpayers now expected to pay nearly $20 million to settle lawsuits stemming from police torture — in which no perpetrators have been prosecuted, and ringleader Jon Burge continues to collect his city pension — a new report on racial discrimination and human rights in Chicago has harsh words on criminal justice.

“Chicago’s criminal justice system continues to plague efforts to secure respect for fundamental human rights in Chicago,” according to the report.

”Long-observed patterns of police abuse continue unabated and lack of accountability within police structures have led to widespread distrust of the justice system in minority communities. Sharp disparities in service and inadequate efforts to establish better community relations reinforce the distressing reality of unequal treatment.”

A coalition of over 30 community and civic organizations sponsored the report, which will be submitted to the U.N. committee overseeing the International Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which meets in February in Geneva. Along with criminal justice it covers issues of poverty, housing, health, education, and transportation.

The report was presented to the mayor on Monday, December 10, with a letter requesting that he join in an effort to set citywide human rights standards, similar to initiatives in San Francisco and New York City. A follow-up meeting is being sought, said Brian Gladstein of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs.
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The report notes that between 2001 and 2005, the city paid nearly $100 million to settle 864 lawsuits alleging police abuse, yet the Chicago Police Department fails to monitor and discipline officers repeatedly accused of misconduct and brutality.

In the Burge case, “despite solid evidence of police torture” none of the perpetrators has been prosecuted. “Impunity is allowed to prevail” as law enforcement agencies “have failed to pursue legal accountability for perpetrators of human rights abuses.”

The report also notes a “two-tiered system of police services,” with 911 response times far higher on the South and West Sides; and a CAPS program that “has failed to provide effective community involvement for all of Chicago’s communities of color.”

On other issues, the report gives detailed accounts of the effect of racial discrimination across the spectrum, from TANF to the CHA’s Plan for Transformation to CPS’s Renaissance 2010.

Racial Profiling and Effective Policing

On Thursday, Jane Addams Hull House will sponsor a forum on Police Intervention with Communities of Color: Profiling, Contact, and Force (December 13 at 10 a.m. at the group’s Sargent Center, 1030 W. Van Buren).

Featured will be University of Toledo law professor David Harris, a nationwide expert on racial profiling. His 2002 book, “Profiles in Injustice,” details the growth of racial profiling as a strategy and shows how it is ineffective. His 2005 book, “Good Cops,” uses stories of successful preventive policing from across the country to argue that preventive strategies protect civil liberties and are more effective at keeping communities safe.

Harris will speak along with Clyde Murphy of the Chicago Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Reservations are requested; call 312-235-5391 or email advocacy@hullhouse.org.



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