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CHA falls further behind

Under Mayor Emanuel, CHA production of replacement housing has slowed to a near halt — to the point that it’s virtually impossible to see the agency completing its new Plan Forward goals on time, housing advocates say.

And that’s with a five-year extension to CHA’s original ten-year Plan For Transformation.

The numbers are striking:  in each of the last four years under Mayor Daley, CHA produced between 760 and 880 replacement units.

In 2011, under Emanuel, CHA produced 424 units; the next year, 112 units; and in 2013, just 88.

And in its proposed plan for 2014, which was the subject of a public hearing Wednesday, CHA is proposing a grand total of 40 new public housing units.

In fact, that number includes 12 units at the new Dorchester Artists Housing located in a vacant scattered site that was rehabbed in 2005  — and already counted once toward the PFT’s goal of 25,000 replacement units, said Leah Levinger of Chicago Housing Initiative.

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At Altgeld, CHA scales back demolition plans

With a federal historic preservation review of plans for Altgeld Gardens under way, CHA has dramatically scaled back the number of units it is considering demolishing there, according to a residents group.

People for Community Recovery discovered last year that the CHA development had been found to be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993, said board president Christian Strachan.

After the group contacted federal agencies for more information — and with demands for a community-led planning process — HUD initiated a Section 106 review aimed at minimizing the impact of federally-funded redevelopment on historic properties, he said.

Meanwhile a consultant hired by CHA in May to coordinate planning has discussed two possible scenarios, one involving demolition of about 120 units and one with even less demolition, according to Cheryl Johnson, executive director of PCR.

That’s a huge change from CHA’s proposal last year, when its annual budget included $7.3 million to cover “planning for demolition” for 648 units at Altgeld, or one-third of the units there.

“That’s a victory for us,” Strachan said.

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A high-rise at Lathrop Homes?

The development team hired by CHA for Lathrop Homes issued a “final draft” of their plan last week, but key details are missing and major questions remain in contention.

That includes the height of a high-rise building Lathrop Community Partners wants to build at the southern end of Lathrop — a flashpoint for neighborhood opposition — as well as issues of preservation, replacement of lost public housing, and public financing for private developers.

Built in 1938 along the Chicago River north and south of Diversy, Lathrop features low-rise brick buildings and landscapes designed by leading architects of the day.  It was cited by Preservation Chicago as “the best public housing Chicago has ever built” and named to the National Register of Historic Places last year.

Preservation plan from Landmarks Illinois

Preservation plan from Landmarks Illinois

CHA stopped leasing to new residents in 2000, at first promising a full renovation as public housing, then meandering through a series of planning efforts. At one point plans to demolish and replace the entire development were announced.

LCP, a consortium of for-profit and nonprofit developers led by Related Midwest, a developer of luxury high-rises, was selected by CHA to handle Lathrop’s redevelopment in 2010.  LCP issued three possible scenarios for community discussion last year.

At a community meeting on the “final draft” plan last week, lead designer Doug Farr said LCP had reduced overall unit count to less than 1,200 in response to concerns about excessive density. (One way they did this, it turns out, was removing the 92-unit Lathrop senior building from the count.)  Earlier plans projected 1,300 to 1,600 units.

That goes some of the way toward meeting objections of neighborhood groups and local aldermen — though they had argued that 1300 units on the 37-acre site meant a density level two-and-a-half times the surrounding area.  Lathrop currently has 925 units, with less than a fifth of them occupied.

LCP also reduced proposed retail development to 20,000 square feet, down from a high of 70,000 — with big box stores surrounded by surface parking — in earlier plans.

But although aldermen and neighborhood groups rejected the concept of a high-rise on the site, it’s still in the plan.  LCP is just not saying how high it will be.  They’re not even calling it a “high-rise.”

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Emanuel’s CHA plan challenged

UPDATED – While Cabrini Row House residents prepare to challenge CHA plans for mixed-income development, CHA resident leaders and housing advocates are questioning Mayor Emanuel’s update to the agency’s Plan For Transformation.

The Cabrini-Green Local Advisory and supporters will hold a press conference Thursday morning (May 16 at 9:30 a.m., 530 W. Locust) to announce “a new initiative to protect the Carini Row Houses,” according to a release from the Legal Assistance Foundation.

Row House residents have called on CHA to fulfill the promise in the original PFT to rehabilitate the development as 100 percent public housing; that plan was put on hold in 2011.

Meanwhile, resident leaders and community organizations called on the CHA board to reject the mayor’s plan and return to the drawing board — and to heed input from the public, including an emphasis on preservation and rehab of existing units rather than subsidizing private development as the most cost-effective way to meet CHA’s obligations.

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A third date for Altgeld Gardens meeting

A promised CHA town hall meeting with residents of Altgeld Gardens – scheduled twice last month, and twice cancelled at the last minute – is now slated for Wednesday.

CHA budgeted $7.3 million for “planning for demolition” of one third of Altgeld’s units in its annual plan, but after scores of Altgeld residents turned out to object, CHA promised no decisions would be made without a “community planning process” to commence with a town hall meeting in November.

A meeting scheduled for November 14 was cancelled the day before, and a rescheduled meeting on November 29 was cancelled by CHA chief executive Charles Woodyard just hours before it was to take place.

Resident leaders were told the November 29 meeting was cancelled because Woodyard had an “emergency meeting” with the mayor, said Cheryl Johnson of People for Community Recovery.

“A lot of people showed up, and the doors were just closed,” she said.  There wasn’t even a sign announcing the cancellation, she added.  “People were angry.”

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New rules for CHA demolitions

New HUD regulations could make it much harder for CHA to get approval to demolish housing at Altgeld Gardens, Lathrop Homes, and Cabrini Row Houses, according to a veteran housing attorney who helped negotiate the change.

HUD issued a notice in February (PIH 2012-7) requiring public housing authorities claiming that units are “obsolete” must demonstrate that no reasonable program of repair is feasible, said Bill Wilen of the Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.  It also requires environmental and civil rights reviews, he said.

A HUD regulation governing the matter is expected to be issued early next year.

Previously, applications for demolition were routinely approved by HUD’s Special Application Center, located in Chicago, including applications that clearly failed to meet statutory requirements, Wilen said.  Rejections of demolition applications by the center have increased significantly in recent months, he said.

Five years ago Wilen successfully challenged HUD’s approval of demolition of public housing in Rockford, one of several legal battles that he said informed an effort by the national Housing Justice Network to get HUD to tighten up its regulations.

There are other possible legal grounds to challenge CHA demolitions. The agency’s annual contract with HUD requires CHA to maintain units that it plans to demolish eventually.  Instead, like many other public housing authorities, CHA allows housing to become deteriorated and then claims it must be demolished as “obsolete,” according to advocates.

Altgeld and Lathrop

At Altgeld Gardens, residents are gearing up for a CHA town hall meeting Thursday (November 29, 6 p.m., at the Community Building, 951 E. 132nd Place) to get community input on plans for their development.

In October, CHA submitted an annual plan with $7.3 million designated for “planning for demolition” of 648 units at Altgeld.  People For Community Recovery is organizing against demolition.

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Lathrop plans: little preservation, big TIF

Three new plans for redeveloping Lathrop Homes fall far short of the project’s stated goal of historic preservation – to the point that developers will pass up tens of millions of dollars in federal historic preservation tax credits.

Instead, they plan to ask for $30 million or more from a new TIF district.

The plans have garnered widespread local opposition due to heavy increases in density and congestion.

CHA and Lathrop Community Partners will present three scenarios at open houses (Thursday, November 15, 3 to 8 p.m., and Saturday, November 17, 12 to 4 p.m.) at New Life Community Church, 2958 N. Damen.

At 4:15 p.m. on Thursday, Lathrop residents and neighbors will hold a press conference to denounce all the scenarios and the lack of any meaningful community engagement.

Already thirteen neighborhood associations have signed onto a letter to CHA from Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) calling for rejection of all three plans due to excessive density and lack of public participation.

And Tuesday, Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) sent an e-mail blast announcing the open houses and saying, “I do not believe that any of the individual scenarios on the table are an acceptable plan to move Lathrop Homes forward.”

Total demolition

In fact, one of the scenarios would almost certainly fail to win regulatory approval.

Dubbed the “Delta Greenscapes” scenario, it calls for demolition of all of Lathrop’s low-rise, historic buildings.

But since Lathrop was named to the National Register of Historic Places in April, any demolition involving federal funds must be approved by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation.  And CHA will use federal funds to cover the costs of rehabbing and operating public housing at Lathrop.

“Clearly, demolishing everything would not meet preservation guidelines and would rarely be an  approveable action under the federal program,” said Michael Jackson, chief architect for preservation services at IHPA, who notes that nothing has been submitted to his agency.

Approval might be forthcoming in cases involving extreme deterioration and functional obsolescence, but “I can’t see that logic applying here,” he said. “The essence of the Lathrop project is historic preservation.  It’s been identified as a historic property, and the development team has been given that direction.”

Indeed, the RFQ under which LCP was selected states that the developer “shall consider preservation one of the priorities of the revitalization.”

“What they’re pulling is a typical developer’s trick,” said Jonathan Fine of Preservation Chicago.  “We’re going to show you something so god-awful that when we walk it back to something slightly less god-awful, the community will think it’s won something.”

Developers prefer TIF

Despite the RFQ’s request for developers with experience using historic tax credits, none of the plans are likely to qualify for the credits, which cover 20 percent of a project’s costs – in this case, tens of millions of dollars.  That’s what developers told aldermen in August, said Paul Sajovek, Waguespack’s chief of staff.

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‘Planning for demolition’ at Altgeld Gardens

Over objections from residents – and despite assurances that residents will be consulted – CHA is submitting an annual plan to HUD that includes $7.3 million for “planning for demolition” of one-third of the public housing units at Altgeld Gardens.

The move comes as the citywide CHA resident leaders’ organization has called for a moratorium on demolition and for rehabbing unoccupied units at Altgeld and at other remaining traditional developments.

It comes as the need for low-income housing continues to grow, while CHA public housing production has slowed dramatically, and the city produces a handful of low-income units annually under its affordable housing plan.

And it comes as housing activists who’ve exposed CHA’s receipt of HUD operating funds for unoccupied housing units are revealing a new no-strings funding stream from HUD – capital subsidies which continue for years for units that have been demolished.

Plan first, talk later

On Tuesday, the CHA board approved the annual plan under HUD’s Moving To Work program.  According to the plan: “After reassessing future developments needs at [Altgeld Gardens and Murray Homes], CHA has determined that it will undertake planning for the demolition of the remaining 648 non-rehabilitated unoccupied units.”

CHA has budgeted $7.3 million for “planning for demolition” at Altgeld, according to the document.  Rehab of 1,300 units at the Far South Side development was completed in 2010.

Last week People for Community Recovery, an organization of Altgeld residents, received assurance from CHA chief Charles Woodyard that no demolition would occur prior to a community planning process, scheduled to kick off with a town hall meeting next month.  Woodyard responded after the group handed Mayor Emanuel a letter asking him to intervene to save Altgeld’s housing, said Cheryl Johnson, executive director of PCR.

“It would be more reassuring for us if they took [funding for demolition] out of the plan,” she said.

“It’s backwards,” said Leah Levinger of the Chicago Housing Initiative, a coalition of community organizations working with tenants in federally-backed housing.  “Why not have the conversation first, before you submit a plan to HUD?”

“There’s no evidence these buildings are not structurally sound or that it’s not cost effective to rehab,” she added.  “Until there is, demolition seems senseless and wasteful.”

Moratorium

The CHA’s Central Advisory Council, comprising elected representatives of public housing developments, calls for a moratorium on demolition in a recent report outlining recommendations for the current “recalibration” of CHA’s Plan for Transformation.

Citing decreases in federal funding and a growing shortage of low-income housing, CAC calls on CHA to prioritize preservation of public housing, “specifically rehabilitation and reconfiguration of existing CHA units.”  Rehab is significantly more cost-effective and involves far fewer development hurdles, CAC notes.

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