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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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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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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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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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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.

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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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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.



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