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Ames parent mobilize

Parents and supporters of Ames Middle School are ramping up efforts to defend the community school from political interference.

Dozens of Ames parents are set to canvas the neighborhood Saturday morning to register voters and spread the word about community meetings being held by the LSC on Tuesday.  They’ll hold a press conference at 11 a.m. at Ames, 1920 N. Hamlin.

Days after parents protested an announcement by Mayor Emanuel that the Marine Academy would take over Ames, CPS appeared to be backtracking, saying the Marine Academy will stay in its current facility but Ames will become “Marine affiliated.”

The mayor’s office told DNA Info that the earlier announcement was “misworded.”

Meanwhile, Ames’s Local School Council has heard nothing from CPS about what is planned for the school, according to an organizer for the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.  The LSC will meet at 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning, with a community meeting scheduled for 4 p.m. that day.

As a community partner for Ames, LSNA coordinates a range of academic, social, and health support programming for students as well as activities for parents and community members, including ESL, literacy and math-science workshops.  LSNA is nationally acclaimed for the success of its community learning center model.

Ames far outperforms Marine academically, according to LSNA, which calls Marine Academy a “pushout factory,” graduating just 56.5 percent of its freshman class four years later.

Mark Brown reported last December that enrollment declined at Ames when CPS removed two local elementary schools as feeders for the middle school.   Brown suggested that Ald. Robert Maldonado, the main proponent of moving the Marine Academy into the Ames building, ought to “suck it up” and meet with Ames parents.

And Raise Your Hand notes in its weekly update that the Ames plan (whatever it is) is one of a slew of newly-announced projects — incuding a $17 million upgrade of Walter Payton High School and a new Noble charter high school across the street from Prosser High — that are nowhere mentioned in the district’s brand-new facilities plan.

“What was the point of the ten-year master facilities plan?” they ask.

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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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School closings, the law, and alternatives

School closings to be announced by CPS on Thursday—expected to be unprecedented in scope — are the first under a new state school facilities planning law, intended to bring transparency and accountability to decisions over school buildings.

But does the school district’s new guidelines for school actions, which must be finalized by November 30, abide by the spirit of the law?  Many of its proponents – and some of its legislative sponsors – say no.

Meanwhile community groups continue to call on CPS to work with communities to improve struggling schools, rather than imposing top-down strategies that have no record of success.

“I don’t see them as being really ready to adhere to SB 630,” said State Representative Esther Golar, a member of the legislative task force which developed the bill.   The legislation “was intended to require CPS to work as partner with parents, teachers, and the community.”

She adds: “That’s something they haven’t been doing….And they’re still saying we’re going to run the schools the way we want to, and you don’t have any say-so.”

“It’s the same failed policies,” said Dwayne Truss, co-chair of the Austin Community Action Council, established by CPS.  “They just want to open up buildings for more charter schools.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Championing neighborhood schools

It’s now ten years since the launch of Renaissance 2010, the CPS campaign that closed scores of neighborhood schools and poured resources into scores of new charters.

The result?  Virtually no improvement in academic performance, according to the Chicago Consortium on School Research.  Better-resourced charters performing at the same level as neighborhood schools.  Worse, CPS’s racial achievement gap has only gotten larger.

The response from new city and school leadership?  They say they want much, much more of the same:  many more closings, many more charters.

What’s the alternative?  Nine community organizations are proposing a Neighborhood Agenda for Schools at an event on Tuesday.  They argue that since the vast majority of CPS students attend neighborhood schools, that’s where available resources should be focused.

The endorsers include groups that have long histories of involvement with schools, including nationally-recognized parent involvement, teacher training, community schools, anti-violence and student mentoring work.  Their recommendations flow from their extensive experience.

The groups include Action Now, Albany Park Neighborhood Council, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Enlace Chicago, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Organization of the Northeast, Southwest Organizing Project, and Target Area Development Corporation.  The College of Education of NEIU has also signed on.

The agenda will be released at a public event with 60 community activists from across the city, Tuesday, November 22, 10:30 a.m., at LSNA, 2840 N. Milwaukee.

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 »

A convention for Chicago’s grassroots

It had the look and the excitement of a political convention, and indeed it was:  a convention of Chicago’s grassroots.

Markers identified sections for delegations from dozens of community groups, and most sections were filled with people wearing brightly colored, matching t-shirts—blue for Action Now in the back corner, Maroon for KOCO in the front, yellow for Lakeview Action Council, orange for Logan Square Neighborhood Association.  Green for Albany Park, orange for Brighton Park.  On one side was a group of young people from Woodlawn, near a section of people, many in wheelchairs, from Access Living.

At the beginning of the New Chicago 2011 mayoral forum, held Tuesday evening at the UIC Forum, members took turns calling out their organizations from the podium, and in turn each section erupted in cheers.

It’s likely to be the largest crowd for a mayoral forum all season – well over 2,000 people — but for some reason, you won’t hear much about it in the city’s mainstream media. (So far Mike Flannery at Fox News Chicago seems to be the only exception, though his report manages to focus on a candidate who wasn’t there; Progress Illinois has some video clips.)

***

Miguel del Valle drew the sharpest distinctions with the pundit’s putative frontrunner Rahm Emanuel — who had declined an invitation and was tied up at a hearing on his residency anyway — and Patricia Watkins emerged as a serious candidate with several specific proposals.

Carol Moseley Braun and Danny Davis stressed their experience with the groups’ issues; for Davis it stretched from his role as the original sponsor of living wage legislation in the City Council long ago to current sponsor of the DREAM Act in Congress.  James Meeks stressed TIF reform and his work for equitable school funding — but didn’t mention the call for vouchers at the heart of the educational program he released Wednesday morning.

Gery Chico drew boos when was asked about food deserts and started talking about Walmart.  He and Meeks left early.

In his opening statement, Del Valle drew the clearest line between his campaign and Emanuel’s, telling the audience, “You understand the need for a neighborhood agenda, not a downtown agenda, not a big business agenda, but a neighborhood agenda.”

When the candidates were asked about immigration reform, Del Valle drew the most sustained applause of the evening, attacking Emanuel as “the one individual most responsible for blocking immigration reform, as a congressman, as chief of staff,” continuing to a passionate crescendo over the rising cheers of the crowd: “How can we expect him to protect the residents of this city’s neighborhoods?”

He also made a clearest distinction with Emanuel’s program for schools: “We can’t continue to set up parallel systems of education, on one track selective enrollment, magnets and charters, on the other track neighborhood schools. It’s time to strengthen neighborhood schools.”

Watkins opened by referencing her background of community organizing, shared with the audience:  “I have marched with you for immigration reform, for criminal justice reform… We have done more as organizers than any politician that you know.”

She called for a program of social investment bonds to encourage “venture philanthropists” to tackle social problems and for a city effort to develop railroad industry jobs.  On immigration she demanded that “ICE stop trolling in Cook County Jail, because we have to keep our families together.”

The candidates were asked about youth issues, immigration, schools, the living wage, and an ordinance devoting TIF funds to affordable housing.

Asked about schools (and school closings specifically), Braun mentioned her sponsorship of school reform legislation that created local school councils, said no closings should happen without community input, and attacked Chico for his record as Board of Education president in the early days of mayoral control.

Chico gave a spirited defense, saying schools were on an upswing when he left his post, and “we built 65 new schools – we didn’t close schools, we built schools.”

Like Davis, Watkins backed an elected school board and an educator to head CPS. “Decisions are being made for us and we are not at the table,” she said.

Her position on school closings and “turnarounds” – “no school needs to close; we can turn around our schools from within” – seemed to contrast with her previous work with groups that turn around schools from outside.  (More here.)

***

It was the neighborhood activists who introduced the various issues who gave the most moving talks:  Jessie Belton of Southwest Youth Collaborative talked about a neighborhood youth who was attacked on the street after being turned away from a youth center that was closed.  Cindy Agustin, a University of Chicago senior whose family moved to Back of the Yards when she was three, talked about the impact of her undocumented status on her dream of teaching elementary school.

West Sider Takaya Nelson, representing Action Now, said that growing up, “I never though college was an option,” and now — as a CPS teacher recruited and trained through the Grow Your Own program — she encourages children to expand their ambitions.

Cira Isidiro, from Illinois Hunger Coalition, described her heartbreak explaining to her daughter why there isn’t enough to eat in the refrigerator, and Debra Geirin, a resident and activist with Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation, talked about the joy of getting their own place after she and her husband had to live with her mother and her sister’s family for five years.  “A lot of families are doubling and tripling up because there is not enough affordable housing,” she said.

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.



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