Logan Square Neighborhood Association – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop http://www.newstips.org Chicago Community Stories Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:31:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.12 Ames parent mobilize http://www.newstips.org/2013/11/ames-parent-mobilize/ Fri, 01 Nov 2013 22:36:10 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7915 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.

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Lathrop plans: little preservation, big TIF http://www.newstips.org/2012/11/lathrop-plans-little-preservation-big-tif/ Wed, 14 Nov 2012 23:25:13 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6751 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.

Instead, they’ll be asking for a $30 million TIF subsidy.

“One of the scenarios could be eligible for [historic] tax credits,” said Kerry Dickson, senior vice president of Related Midwest, lead developer of LCP, on Tuesday.

Fine and Sajovek dispute that.  One scenario retains 480 historic units north of Diversy, but each building is marred by additions.  “To take a historic building and glom something onto it so you can generate more revenue for your project – it’s not going to pass muster,” said Fine.

In any case, “taking a historic site and demolishing half of it, that’s not our definition of historic preservation,” he added.

He points out that the historic tax credit is “a better option from a policy standpoint” than a TIF subsidy.  “It has the advantage that it’s not money that’s being diverted from our police and our schools,” he said.

There’s another factor at play, Fine says – maximizing preservation is the easiest way to maximize affordability.  One scenario that’s noticeably missing from this week’s presentations is the preservation plan developed five years ago by Landmarks Illinois working with Lathrop residents (more on that here).

Instead, LCP’s plan disregards the RFQ’s requirement that “approximately one third of [units] must be public housing.”  LCP bumps the proportion down to 25 percent – by bumping the proportion of high-end market housing to 50 percent.

A recent Crain’s report — on how the housing crash has “decimated” CHA’s mixed-income goals — reveals that Roosevelt Square on the near west side, another CHA redevelopment being done by Related Midwest, is years behind schedule, with less than 18 percent of for-sale units complete.

Density

Waguespack points out that neighborhood groups are split on the issues of preservation and affordable housing.  But they are unanimous that the density being proposed is wildly inappropriate.

The RFQ specifies a range of 800 to 1200 units.  When LCP presented its plans in closed sessions with the aldermen and the the working group that’s supposed to oversee redevelopment, unit counts began at 1350.  Since then they’ve said that all three scenarios will have 1600 units, Sajovek said.

That includes high-rises as tall as 28 stories, he said – far higher than anything north of North Street or west of the immediate lakefront.

“We just can’t understand how, in a neighborhood with the level of congestion we have, which isn’t served by mass transit, there’s any sort of justificiation for a massive increase in density, far above anything around it,” he said.

On top of the huge unit count, the developers are proposing 70,000 square feet of automobile-oriented, big box retail, including a 25,000 square-foot grocery store, with extensive surface parking and, in one scenario, several new curb cuts for drive-through retail at Diversy and Clybourn.

“Diversy is backed up all the time,” said Fine.  “That’s with Lathrop 80 percent vacant.”

More gridlock

“Look at what you’ve got in the area – Costco, Dominic’s and Aldi all within close walking distance, and Target and other big stores not much farther,” Sajovek said.  “This is not a retail desert or a food desert by any stretch of the imagination.”

The amount of retail with surface parking north on Clybourn “has turned all the streets in the area into gridlock,” with Whole Foods and other stories actually leaving the area because of it, he said.

“We don’t see any justification from a planning standpoint for anything near 70,000 square feet of retail,” he said.

The density and congestion – and the increase in surface parking – are also major reasons why none of the scenarios are likely to qualify for LEED certification, though the RFQ describes the redevelopment’s primary goal – in bold print at the very top of the first page – as creating “CHA’s first community to attain LEED-ND Gold or Platinum certification.”

Sajovek thinks that in the absence of any restraint from CHA, all the redevelopment goals at Lathrop have been thrown over for “a single consideration: what’s going to generate the highest profit from this site.”  Developer profit is a legitimate consideration, he said, “but it has to balanced against other factors” including “what’s best for the surrounding neighborhood.”

“The bottom line is, they want to maximize their profit and the way to do that is density,” said Fine.  “It’s density, density, density.  It’s all about taking profit from this publicly-owned historic site, even if it erases the site” – and drowns the neighborhood in congestion.

“It’s a land grab, that’s all it’s ever been or ever will be, until they start listening to what residents and neighbors want,” he said.

‘Fraudulent’

“We’re committed to a very engaged community planning process,” said Dickson.

That’s not how others see it.

“I told them straight to their face, they’re liars,” said long-time resident Mary Thomas, a leader of the Lathrop Leadership Team.

“They talk about community input,” she says.  “What it would be is, they would bring 20 or 30 pizzas and say, ‘This is what’s going to happen, this is what’s going to happen, this is what’s going to happen.’

“We were never involved,” she said.  “It’s fraudulent.”

According to Sajovek and John McDermott of Logan Square Neighborhood Association, LCP held three workshops late last year that were described as preparing members of the public to participate in a series of design charrettes.  But the charrettes were repeatedly postponed, and ultimately never happened.

Again, when LCP shared the three scenarios with the aldermen in August, they said an open house would be held “in a couple of weeks,” Sajovek said.  That too was repeatedly postponed.  Now it’s being touted as “the first of a series of community meetings.”

Dickson said the Lathrop Working Group – with representatives of CHA, residents, elected officials, and neighborhood groups – “has been involved in all phases of the planning.”

Sajovek, who represented Waguespack on the LWG, says LCP came to meetings to refute rumors residents were reporting or complain about LWG members’ public actions.  “There was never any discussion about preservation or about specific unit counts or anything substantive,” he said.

“Over the past ten months, there have been no opportunities for public input as LCP developed the three scenarios,” according to Waguespack’s letter to CHA, signed by the neighborhood groups.  “It follows that the scenarios are devoid of any evidence that key concerns of the surrounding residents were incorporated into the plan.”

“We had a collection of meetings and gathered information from the community, then we took that and spent time developing those ideas,” said Dickson.

“To understand the plans we’re proposing, and the reason and logic behind them – and the good planning behind them – people should come to the open house, where there will be continuous presentations about all three of the scenarios,” he said.

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Lathrop Homes highlight CHA vacancy boondoggle http://www.newstips.org/2012/07/lathrop-homes-highlight-cha-vacancy-boondoggle/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/07/lathrop-homes-highlight-cha-vacancy-boondoggle/#comments Sat, 14 Jul 2012 01:10:14 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6443 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.

Lathrop is “an exact case study of the type of problem we’re talking about with vacancies at CHA overall,” Levinger said.  “They started vacating [Lathrop] in 2000 and they still don’t have a plan.”  (With 925 units, Lathrop is currently 82 percent vacant, and residents have long called for leasing vacant apartments.  Some 40,000 families are on CHA’s waiting list.)

Instead of maintaining occupancy levels and maintaining properties, “they vacate first and figure out what they’re going to do later.”  Then they use subsequent deterioration as an excuse to reduce the amount of public housing.

“We’re saying keep the units occupied until you’ve figured out what you’re doing with them,” she said.  “They’re getting federal money to provide housing – they should be providing housing with it.”

More delays

Meanwhile the planning process for Lathrop’s “revitalization” continues its long history of delays.  A supposedly open planning process consisted of three workshops in December – where, as the Reporter points out, planners refused to discuss resident’s number-one concern, the income mix of the redevelopment – and since then a series of postponements, McDermott said.  A planning team is now expected to present a set of scenarios sometime later this year.

Residents want the historic riverside development preserved and redeveloped as a mix of public and affordable housing.  What they don’t want is market-rate housing, which would require demolition and new construction.

Residents and their supporters have emphasized the glut of market-rate housing in the area – and the long-growing shortage of affordable housing throughout the city.

They got some hope for flexibility recently when Woodyard said the rigid formula guiding the CHA’s Plan For Transformation – one-third market-rate, one-third affordable, one-third public housing – needs to be reexamined in light of the crash of the housing market.  CHA is currently undertaking a “recalibration” of the transformation plan.

But talking with the Reporter, an executive of Related Midwest, the lead for-profit developer on the Lathrop planning team, insisted that market-rate housing must be part of the mix in the new Lathrop.  He gave two reasons: to attract retail development, and to qualify for TIF financing, if it’s needed to make the deal work.

But would TIF financing be necessary if market-rate housing wasn’t included?  And is more market-rate housing really what we should be subsidizing with TIF funds right now?

Meanwhile, Related Midwest has asked CHA to change the income mix at Roosevelt Square, the redevelopment of the Near West Side ABLA homes (which is also far behind schedule), to 80 percent market-rate and 20 percent public housing.  That is, a third less public housing than previously agreed to, and no affordable housing at all.

Over the past decade, CHA’s plans for Lathrop have been a series of constantly changing schemes; Related Midwest has had delays, financial difficulties, and shifting targets. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the vision of Lathrop residents and their supporters.

On Saturday, Lathrop residents will launch a letter-writing campaign urging CHA to adjust the income goals for Lathrop as part of the recalibration effort.  McDermott notes that on the CHA’s website for public input, preserving and rehabbing Lathrop with no market-rate housing is the most popular proposal.

 

Note: Sandra Henriquez’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this post.

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School closings, the law, and alternatives http://www.newstips.org/2011/11/school-closings-the-law-and-alternatives/ Tue, 29 Nov 2011 21:08:50 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4981 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.”

‘Too vague’

The guidelines for actions are so broad that they leave nearly a quarter of CPS schools open to action, circumventing SB 630’s attempt to encourage transparency in school closing decisions and limit the administration’s ability to act in an arbitrary manner, supporters of the law say.

The guidelines are “too vague,” said Golar.

By using school performance and probationary status as the basic standard for school actions, CPS relies on statistically questionable measurements – and risks exposing its own failure to meet obligations to schools on probation, said Don Moore of Designs for Change.

The number of schools on probation, now amounting to 42 percent of CPS schools, mainly reflects “erratic changes in the CPS probation policy from year to year,” said Moore.  “A large number of Chicago’s probation schools are scoring very well and carrying out good practices,” he said.

Probation standards are currently set to include nearly all schools with significant low-income enrollment, he said.  Schools making steady progress can end up on probation if they slip a couple of points one year.  Due to complex (and controversial) “trend” score calculations, some schools on probation actually have higher scores than schools that aren’t.

Nor does the performance policy account for many challenges faced by neighborhood schools.  Truss points to two Austin schools:  Louis Armstrong Elementary and Plato contract school, located nearby.  Armstrong has 27 percent of its students getting special education, versus 11.4 percent at Plato; the mobility rates are 24.6 percent versus 8.5.  “And Armstrong takes in third graders that Plato doesn’t want,” he said — just in time for tests.

Charter schools, most of which have scores comparable to neighborhood schools, are exempt from the district’s performance policy.

Schools on probation neglected

Moore underscores a common complaint by critics of the guidelines:  “CPS has consistently failed to carry out its own obligations under the probation policy.”

“The schools on probation, what help have they received from CPS?” asked State Reprentative Cynthia Soto, who co-chairs the facilities task force, talking with the Tribune.

At a recent hearing on the school action guidelines held by CPS on the West Side, parents at Marconi Elementary argued CPS has never addressed the problems which led to probation for the school, Catalyst reported.

“The school’s air conditioning is broken, they don’t have a gym, there’s no computer lab, no science lab, ceilings are falling in – there are a lot of issues,” said West Side activist Carol Johnson, who works with Truss in the Progressive Action Coalition for Education.  “CPS officials did a walk-through, they have a list of everything that parents said they needed, but they haven’t done anything.”

“If you’re going to turn around a school and then put in resources, that doesn’t seem right,” she said.  “If you’re going to give resources, do it before you close the school.”

CPS has failed to follow the mandates of state law governing probation – a possible ground for opposing school closings based on probationary status, said Moore.

State law requires that schools placed on probation – under which control over school improvement plans, budgets, and principal hiring is taken from local school councils and given to the central administration – must get a plan from the school district outlining specific steps to be taken to correct identified shortcomings, with specific expenditures in the school budget targeting educational and operational deficiencies.

Supporters of schools facing closing could file freedom of information requests for documentation that these steps have been taken, Moore suggests.  CPS failure to comply would constitute grounds for independent hearing officers to determine that the district hasn’t met legal requirements to close the school.

What about charter performance?

The school action guidelines include a range of factors, and Golar said the legislative task force has written CPS raising a number of questions and concerns.

Some of these include: how do they measure student safety?  Are there any specific criteria for “co-locating” schools, or is that decision entirely up to the whim of CPS?  Will school actions result in smaller class sizes?  Why was the previous policy of exempting schools with new principals dropped?

And a big one for her:  why are charters and turnarounds not subject to the same performance requirements?

Golar has been pushing for accountability for charters since she was elected in 2006.  “Charter schools have the same issues traditional schools have, yet they don’t have the same performance measures,” she said.  “They have all these computer labs, longer school days, better books, all the things parents are asking for, and with all that, they’re still failing.”

It’s quite possible for students from closing schools to end up at charters that are performing no better, CTU has argued.

A neighborhood agenda

There’s an alternative.  Instead of disinvesting from and closing neighborhood schools, community organizations recently proposed an agenda to invest in and improve them.

It’s a comprehensive program – the proposal for college preparation and readiness begins with pre-school for all and full-day kindergarten in every school.  It’s based on the successes of community organizations that have worked in schools for years.

The agenda proposes that all neighborhood schools follow the community school model.  It includes programs like parent mentors in the classroom, smaller class sizes, arts education and recess, restorative justice and mental health services, local teacher development and improved bilingual education.  It stresses partnerships with community groups and community governance, including local school councils with decision-making power at every school, and support and training for LSCs.

In Bronzeville, community groups have worked for two years on a plan for Dyett High School and five elementary schools that feed into it.  Dyett would  become a Community High School of Green Technology and Leadership, and the elementary schools would focus variously on math, science, engineering, languages and global citizenship.

There would be curriculum alignment throughout the “village,” says Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, along with health centers, a social worker and nurse, social-emotional and leadership programming, restorative justice, safety patrols, and pre-K for all.

The groups have called for a moratorium on school closings in Bronzeville, which has been hard hit by closings over the past decade, and which has a large number of schools which meet the new criteria.

“We’ve had ten years of closings, consolidations, and turnarounds, and they have not helped our students,” said Andrea Lee of Grand Boulevard Federation.

Brown points out that Dyett was under-resourced when it was turned into a high school to serve students who couldn’t get into the new King College Prep;  a couple years later it was “completely destabilized” when Englewood High was closed and students were sent to Dyett.

Constant destabilization

“We have to defend ourselves against our own school district,” which is “setting up our schools to fail,” he said.

“We’re looking at schools being constantly destabilized with models that just don’t work – just moving children around – and no accountability when they don’t work,” he said.

There’s evidence that the alternative strategy works.  Logan Square Neighborhood Association’s community schools are nationally acclaimed, and in a high-poverty, high-crime area on the Southwest Side, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council has worked for eight years in schools and seen steady improvement in  achievement levels.

BPNC’s full-service community schools provide afterschool academic support for struggling kids and homework help for others, followed by two hours of enrichment activity – music, art, drama, sports, “everything you can think of,” said Patrick Brosnan.

There’s ESL, GED, citizenship, and computer classes for parents, aimed at assisting them in supporting their children in school. There’s parent and student leadership development.

Each school has a resource coordinator and a social worker.  Funding comes from the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers program and other public and private sources.

“It’s building ownership over the school and trying to promote the school as a center of the community,” Brosnan said.  “We’ve seen tremendous results in schools that have a lot of challenges.”

Soto has announced the legislature’s Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force will hold a hearing on CPS school actions on Thursday, December 1 at 10 a.m. at the Bilandic Building, 160 N. LaSalle.

The Chicago Teachers Union is holding a teach-in on stopping  school closings for teachers, parents, and community groups on Saturday, December 3 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at King College Prep, 4445 S. Drexel.

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Championing neighborhood schools http://www.newstips.org/2011/11/championing-neighborhood-schools/ Mon, 21 Nov 2011 23:07:54 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4956 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.

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Lathrop residents pray for preservation http://www.newstips.org/2011/10/lathrop-residents-pray-for-preservation/ Thu, 06 Oct 2011 20:14:31 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4782 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.

CHA recently signed a $1.1 million loan agreement with a development team selected last year over the objections of Lathrop resident leadership.  The contract has not yet been made public, said John McDermott of Logan Square Neighborhood Association, which is working with residents in the Lathrop Leadership Team.

CHA was recently challenged for its high rate of vacant units, at a time when its Plan For Transformation is stalled.  The agency responded that “off-line” units are not to be counted as vacant, though some have been off-line for years, in some cases following rehab.

Insistence on including market-rate housing in Lathrop’s redevelopment would hold up work for years in the current climate, McDermott said.  And it would be “missing the forest for the trees,” he said.

In its approach to developing mixed-income housing, CHA focuses “on a micro scale within their developments” but misses “the real historical barriers to breaking down poverty tied to Chicago’s history of racial segregation,” he said.

“Are we really breaking up concentrations of poverty if we insist on sharply limiting the number of low- and moderate-income families that can access jobs, schools, and shopping in an economically thriving North Side community?” he asked.  “Or are we really reinforcing larger patterns of segregation and patterns of gentrification and displacement?”

He points out that Lathrop is located “in a part of the city that has seen tremendous displacement of African American and Latino families and a dramatic loss of affordable housing.”

In his first press conference last month, new CHA chieef Charles Woodyard said that “given the bare reality of this real estate market” CHA would have to “be outside-the-box thinkers” to turn “our current assets…into real housing opportunities.”

He was asked what “outside the box” meant, but Mayor Emanuel stepped to the microphone in front of him before he could answer, the Sun Times reported.

But the CHA’s biggest “box” – particularly given a housing market that shows no signs of recovery – is the agency’s strict insistence on a formula of one-third market, one-third affordable, and one-third public housing in redevelopments.

Lathrop residents say it isn’t appropriate there.  Their prayers will be heard – but will their plan ever be considered?

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A convention for Chicago’s grassroots http://www.newstips.org/2010/12/a-convention-for-chicagos-grassroots/ http://www.newstips.org/2010/12/a-convention-for-chicagos-grassroots/#comments Wed, 15 Dec 2010 22:19:23 +0000 http://communitymediaworkshop.org/newstips/?p=2504 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.)

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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.)

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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.

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Lathrop Residents: Lease Vacant Units http://www.newstips.org/2008/10/lathrop-residents-lease-vacant-units/ http://www.newstips.org/2008/10/lathrop-residents-lease-vacant-units/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2008 19:34:09 +0000 http://communitymediaworkshop.org/newstips/?p=308 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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