People for Community Recovery – 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=4.4.13 At Altgeld, CHA scales back demolition plans http://www.newstips.org/2013/09/at-altgeld-cha-scales-back-demolition-plans/ Thu, 05 Sep 2013 22:09:55 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7667 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.

CHA is expected to unveil a final draft of its plan at the end of September.

Community planning process

Meanwhile PCR and supporting groups in the Save Altgeld Coalition are conducting their own community planning process, with help by a volunteer group of architects and with far more robust resident participation, Strachan said.  It’s necessary because CHA’s approach to redevelopment has put residents’ interests last, he said.

“We’re putting together our own community development plan” that’s oriented to “empowering and protecting the community,” he said.

They’re holding a final town hall to gather input this Saturday, September 7, from 2 to 5 p.m. at Altgeld’s Community Building at 951 E. 132nd.

Citing the affordable housing crisis, the Save Altgeld Coalition wants to see 100 percent of Altgeld’s units rehabbed, Johnson said.

The community plan will also propose guarantees that Atgeld residents get employment in any redevelopment work, as well as commercial development including a grocery store.  Johnson said current CHA plans include no commercial development beyond a community garden.

“That’s something I think will change,” Strachan commented.

Consisting mainly of brick row houses located around 113rd and Ellis, Altgeld Gardens was built in 1945 to house African-American veterans and their families.  Current plans for an extension of the Red Line would put the transit line within walking distance, Johnson said.

A CHA spokesperson wasn’t immediately available for comment.

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A third date for Altgeld Gardens meeting http://www.newstips.org/2012/12/a-third-date-for-altgeld-gardens-meeting/ Tue, 04 Dec 2012 20:39:16 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6816 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.”

“Residents really want  to be engaged,” Johnson said.  “People really want to know what’s going to happen to the future to the future of housing at Altgeld.”

The meeting is now scheduled for Wednesday, December 5 at 6 p.m. at the CYC Community Building, 951 E. 132nd Place.

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New rules for CHA demolitions http://www.newstips.org/2012/11/new-rules-for-cha-demolitions/ Thu, 29 Nov 2012 00:21:48 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6787 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.

At Lathrop, six scholars of public housing policy, including Mary Patillo of Northwestern, published an opinion piece in the Skyline noting CHA’s “decade of indecision, occasional promises, conflicting information, organizational amnesia, and changing leadership.”

“It’s time to open up a real and transparent democratic and participatory process at Lathrop,” they write.

A development team selected by CHA recently proposed three scenarios for Lathrop, each including demolition of from half to all of the development’s public housing.  Lathrop Homes was listed on the National Register of Historic Places earlier this year.

CAC recommendations

On Friday morning, the Central Advisory Council of CHA, representing resident leaders from across the city, will present their recommendations for revising CHA’s Plan For Transformation, followed by discussion by a panel of stakeholders (Friday, November 20, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at UIC Student Center East, 750 S. Halsted, room 302).

Issued this summer, the CAC’s recommendations call on CHA to focus on preservation and rehabilitation of existing CHA units over more expensive new construction; redevelop housing such as Lathrop and Cabrini, located in areas with large inventories of market-rate housing, using a mix of affordable and public housing; and establish a long-term capital improvement plan.

They call for adjusting CHA’s work requirement to account for high unemployment; establishing an independent monitor over federal requirements that CHA contractors hire residents; and instituting a business development strategy to promote resident-owned businesses including worker-owned cooperatives.

The CAC also calls for reassessing of the role of Business and Professional People in the Public Interest in decision-making at Cabrini and Lathrop, where BPI has opposed redevelopment plans that don’t include market housing.  BPI’s involvement goes back to the Gautreaux case, first filed in 1966.

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‘Planning for demolition’ at Altgeld Gardens http://www.newstips.org/2012/10/planning-for-demolition-at-altgeld-gardens/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/10/planning-for-demolition-at-altgeld-gardens/#comments Thu, 18 Oct 2012 01:05:51 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6698 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.

CAC president Myra King was the only CHA commissioner to vote against the MTW plan Tuesday.

Among many other recommendations, CAC calls for completing rehabilitation of Altgeld Gardens, along with the Cabrini Rowhouses and Lathrop Homes.  Given the housing market crash, it calls for developing mixed-income communities consisting of affordable and public housing.

The report notes the growing need for affordable and low-income housing.  In 2009, 54 percent of Chicago tenants were rent-burdened, 19 percent more than in 1999, when CHA launched its Plan for Transformation.  With current trends, the proportion of rent-burdened households could be as high as 63 percent by 2020.

The majority of rent-burdened households, at risk of homelessness, are extremely low-income, making less than $20,000 a year, CAC notes.  These are the families CHA should be serving.

Huge housing shortage

Meanwhile, the shortage of affordable housing is growing. In 2009 it was estimated at 130,000 units, up 10 percent in just four years.  One new factor: between 2009 and 2011, 17,000 apartment buildings with 52,000 units went into foreclosed.

Of course, there’s the 60,000 on CHA waiting lists — and the many more who applied to the limited waiting list slots.

On top of that, as Steve Bogira has reported in the Chicago Reader, poverty rates continue to grow in Chicago.  Child poverty is up to 35.8 percent this year, and more than one in ten Chicagoans living in extreme poverty, with incomes less than half the federal poverty level.

The Tribune reports that low-wage sectors are growing while high-paying industries continue to shed jobs, and a recent report from the Action Now Institute and Women Employed found that nearly a third of Chicagoans work low-wage jobs, not paid enough to cover basic necessities.

Given all that, it’s not surprising that 97,000 Chicagoans, including some 15,000 CPS students, were homeless at some point last year, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.  And as the Chicago Reporter recently documented, Chicago’s homeless include people who are on CHA’s waiting list.

Still, Chicago can afford to sacrifice 648 units of low-income housing at Altgeld, and possibly hundreds more at Cabrini and Lathrop.  How do those numbers stack up against affordable housing production here – and against the shortfall of 130,000 affordable units?

Housing production has slowed to a trickle at CHA – in part because the agency has stopped rehabbing traditional developments.  Next year CHA projects adding 345 units to its portfolio; last year it planned for 200 new units.

(That doesn’t include project-based vouchers, which HUD has allowed CHA to count toward its housing production since 2010.  Advocates point out that public housing units guarantee decades of low-income housing, while vouchers involve shorter-term contracts with private landlords.)

Net loss

In 2011, the last year for which final numbers are available, CHA produced 432 new public housing units and demolished 909 units.

How about the city’s affordable housing plan?  Last year the city reported producing 2,054 new multifamily affordable housing units, separate from ongoing state rental subsidies.  But according to the Chicago Rehab Network’s analysis, very few of these were for low-income families.

Only 14 of those units were affordable for families with incomes below 30 percent of the area median income.  An additional 43 were affordable for families with incomes between 31 and 50 percent of AMI.

Under its plan to end homelessness, meanwhile, the city averaged about 325 units of permament supportive housing a year over the past decade.

With numbers like these, you’d need a compelling reason to tear down 648 potentially habitable units – especially when community members oppose the demolition, as scores of Altgeld residents made very clear at the CHA’s hearing on its annual plan last month.

CHI has charged that CHA has a deliberate policy of limiting and reducing public housing populations in order to reduce its legal obligation to provide replacement housing in communities slated for redevelopment.  Previously CHI revealed that thousands of habitable units are kept vacant by CHA — and under a special arrangement dating to the start of the Plan for Transformation, HUD operating subsidies continue to flow to units whether they’re occupied or not.

Now CHI has uncovered evidence that HUD continues to provide tens of millions of dollars in capital subsidies for units that have been demolished.  The money is supposed to fund replacement housing, but there are no reporting requirements and no requirements for specific numbers of units delivered in specific time periods, Levinger said.

“It’s yet another ill-defined funding stream,” she said.  “It’s a lot of dollars with no strings.”

According to CHI, in 2011 CHA received $39 million in capital funding for units that had been demolished, some years earlier.

“CHA could demolish 648 units at Altgeld and get [capital] dollars for the next ten years, at the same level they got while [the properties] were standing, and never spend that money – and nobody at HUD would bat an eye,” Levinger said.

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Altgeld residents oppose demolition plans http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/altgeld-residents-oppose-demolition-plans/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/09/altgeld-residents-oppose-demolition-plans/#comments Tue, 11 Sep 2012 00:54:05 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6624 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.”

According to the new CHA report, the agency is “exploring options” for Altgeld, including the possibility of “integrating other housing types.”  In the meantime, “CHA has determined that it will undertake planning for the demolition” of all vacant, non-rehabbed units there.

Deemed ‘viable,’ left vacant

The Plan For Transformation committed CHA to complete rehab of 5,000 public housing units in developments determined by building assessments to be “viable,” including Altgeld, Lathrop Homes, and Cabrini Row Houses.

But in subsequent years, even while some rehab was carried out, the agency stopped leasing out vacant units.  Now just 18 percent of Lathrop’s units are occupied, and 21 percent of the Cabrini Rowhouses, according to the Chicago Reporter.  Altgeld is nearly one-third vacant.

As revealed by the Chicago Housing Initiative, CHA exploits a legal loophole to get federal operating subsidies for unoccupied units.

In 2010, over residents’ objections, CHA hired a development team for Lathrop that included a major for-profit, luxury housing developer, and last year CHA put the Cabrini redevelopment on hold, citing outside groups opposing its renovation as 100-percent public housing.

The Reporter recently talked with homeless families who are among 40,000 families on CHA’s waiting list, noting that they have little hope “of ever hearing from CHA or getting an apartment.”

Johnson said she knows displaced Altgeld residents now residing in homeless shelters.

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In Millennium Reserve, a firing range? http://www.newstips.org/2012/01/in-millennium-reserve-a-firing-range/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/01/in-millennium-reserve-a-firing-range/#comments Wed, 04 Jan 2012 00:03:49 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=5041 Conservationists say they were “blindsided” when Mayor Emanuel resurrected a proposal to build a police firing range on the Southeast Side, just days after he joined in announcing the area would be part of a massive Millennium Reserve open space project.

The 33-acre firing range site is in “the heart” of what’s being called the Calumet Core, slated for the first phase of environmental renovation and trail-building under the Millennium Reserve, said Carolyn Marsh of the Chicago Audubon Society.

“It’s sad that our politicians, and particularly our new mayor, seem to be hypocritical on this issue,” Marsh said.

Days after the December 9 Millennium Reserve announcement, Emanuel requested the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to take up a dormant proposal to lease the site to the city.

At the district’s December 15 meeting, Commissioner Debra Shore moved to defer the motion for a month.  The MWRD board is scheduled to consider the proposal at its meeting Thursday, January 5.

Environmental groups are calling on the MWRD commissioners to vote down the proposal.

Endangered species

In April, the MWRD board requested a wildlife survey of the site by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and a survey in May identified six Black Crowned Night Herons, an endangered species in Illinois, among dozens of species of birds.  But since no nests were found, IDNR registered no objections to the project.

The survey notes that measuring the impact of noise on wildlife at the site would require a long-term, specialized study.

In its annual Christmas bird count, Chicago Audubon noted two Bald Eagles not far from the proposed firing range site, Marsh said.

“Chicago Audubon has been fighting for 30 years for this area to be a mecca of connecting wetlands for wildlife, and instead we keep threatening their habitats,” she said.

The firing range site is in a 140-acre section owned by MWRD, along the Calumet River and South of 134th Street.  It’s adjacent to the O’Brien Lock Marsh and Whitford Pond and close by Hegewisch Marsh.

Once a wetland known as Dutchman’s Slough, it was dug up during the Deep Tunnel project and filled in with limestone, but MWRD was expected to restore the wetland, said Tom Shepherd of the Southeast Environmental Task Force.

Local residents will be “reminding the MWRD commissioners of their obligation to restore this parcel to its original condition,” he said.

The area should be restored with native wetlands plants so it will function as a filter for contaminated runoff from surrounding landfills which could reach the Calumet River and Lake Michigan, said Judith Lihota of the Calmuet Ecological Park Association.

And firing assault weapons on a constant basis will surely drive off wildlife, robbing them of scarce habitat and undermining the purpose of the trails being built under the Millennium Reserve project, she said.

Widely expanded training functions at the site do not seem to be out of the question, Shepherd said.  He said city officials have been vague when  residents sought to pin them down on this.

In Altgeld Gardens to the west of the site, Cheryl Johnson of People for Community Recovery shares other residents’ environmental concerns, but she also has safety concerns.

“No one came to us to let us know that they would be building this type of facility in our area without any public comment,” she said.  “It’s just disrespecting us as residents of the city.”

“I’d like to ask the mayor, would you want something like that in your neighborhood?” she said.

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Two new libraries represent community victories http://www.newstips.org/2011/09/two-new-libraries-represent-community-victories/ Fri, 23 Sep 2011 21:03:29 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=4762 The official opening of the Richard M. Daley Library last month attracted lots of dignitaries (including the former mayor himself, as well as his successor) and lots of attention.  Now the community which fought for years to get the library is holding its own celebration.

Blocks Together is holding a march to promote reading and a barbecue to “celebrate our victory,” Saturday, September 24, starting at 12 noon at the Kelly YMCA, 824 N. Hamlin and finishing up at Kells Park across the street from the new library, at Kedzie and Ohio.

The march will revisit sites where protests were held in the long campaign for the library.  At the picnic there will be storytelling and kids’ games – and prizes for the best signs and the best chants promoting reading.  To get some barbecue, anyone without a library card will have to apply for one.

With 10,000 visitors in its first 14 days of operation, the Daley Library is the most heavily used of the city’s new libraries, said Cecile Carroll of Blocks Together.

The group will be collecting signatures on a petition to make sure the new library’s operating budget is not cut in the next city budget.  Recent reports indicate the city is considering closing some branches.

The heavy turnout shows that “this is a very badly needed library,” said Carroll. “We don’t want to see the hours cut. Ideally they should be expanded.”

Residents at Altgeld Gardens are also celebrating a new library – also a result of extensive community organizing, Residents Journal reports.  It’s the first public library in Chicago housed in a school building.

After the community’s library was closed over two years ago, People for Community Recovery sent 1,000 signatures on a petition calling for reopening of the community’s public library to President Obama.

In a press release from 2009, the group noted that as a young organizer in Roseland, Obama helped lead the fight for expansion of that library in 1996.

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