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A high-rise at Lathrop Homes?

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

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

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

Preservation plan from Landmarks Illinois

Preservation plan from Landmarks Illinois

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mental health cuts called callous, dangerous

For N’Dana Carter, the proposal to transfer patients from the city’s Beverly-Morgan Park Mental Health Center to the center in Roseland is emblematic of the “callousness” of the cutbacks in Mayor Emanuel’s proposed budget.

The Beverly Area Planning Agency and other community groups will rally against the closing of the center on Monday, November 14 from 3 to 6 pm. at 111th and Longwood.

“There’s nowhere else in our community to receive public mental health services,” said Matt Walsh, executive director of BAPA.  Closing the center “would be devastating to the most vulnerable members of our community.”

He adds: “This is people’s lives we’re dealing with here.”

“These are mainly white, mainly middle-aged ladies” going to the clinic, said Carter, an activist (who is African American) with the Mental Health Movement organized by Southside Together Organizing for Power.  They will stand out sharply in the black community of Roseland, on the opposite end of the city’s Far South Side, she said.

“Roseland is very dangerous.  It’s a war zone.  They are putting people in harm’s way.  It’s like putting a sign on their back saying ‘hurt me’.”

‘Too dangerous’

“It’s too dangerous; I would be risking my life to go there,” one Beverly resident and center client told the Beverly Review.

“We’re victims of violence fairly often,” said Fred Friedman, a mental health advocate with Next Steps.  Transferring Beverly patients to Roseland “is a very stupid thing,” he said.

It typifies the lack of concern for patients’ welfare – and for a wide range of costs –involved in closing six of the city’s twelve mental health clinics, advocates say.  The city says the closings will save $3.3 million out of the city’s $6 billion budget.

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On Whittier, the Tribune is duped

The Chicago Tribune wants to hold Whittier parents to account for the costs of delaying a new library at the Pilsen elementary school.

There’s another way of looking at it.  You could also hold CPS leadership to account for commencing the project in a manner that seemed designed to foment a confrontation.

You might even ask about contracts being let before the Board of Education approved the project.

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Renters stressed

With more renters paying unaffordable rents and foreclosures and unemployment continuing, we could see “a surge of homelessness” that rivals the recession of the early 1980s — unless the federal government steps in with “a sustained intervention,” said Sheila Crowley of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Crowley spoke Tuesday at the release of a new study by the Metropolitan Tenants Association which found that half of Chicago’s renters are paying over a third of their income for rent, with nearly 30 percent paying over half their income.

The study is intended encourage Obama administration efforts to rebalance housing policy, which has long been criticized by advocates as favoring home ownership over rental and low-income housing.

Based on information from MTO’s tenant hotline confirmed by census data, the study found the proportion of rental households has decreased on the North and South Lakefront, where they previously predominated, while rising on the Northwest and Southwest Sides, traditionally characterized by home ownership.

Those areas often have fewer needed services, fewer shopping and transportation options, and community groups less geared toward tenant issues, said John Bartlett of MTO.

In addition, tenants are increasingly housed in smaller buildings, often owned by individuals rather than real estate partnerships. These landlords may be more likely to have financial problems and thus “more likely to have trouble getting repairs done or keeping utilities on” — and also more likely to face foreclosure, Bartlett said.

And after foreclosure, banks are more likely to vacate smaller properties than to continue renting them, he said. And often maintenance deteriorates or stops entirely.

There are some steps the city could take, Bartlett said. A “just-cause eviction ordinance” would give security to tenants who pay their rent and follow the rules, and would “recognize the importance of creating stable tenancies.” He called for 20 percent of TIF funds to be used for affordable housing, and for strategies to encourage landlords to maintain their properties.

But citing a shortage of 180,000 affordable rental units in Cook County, he said the problem requires a federal response.

National Housing Trust Fund

The report calls for fully funding the new National Housing Trust Fund, increasing the HUD budget with more funding for both project-based subsidized housing and vouchers, reenacting the requirement of one-for-one replacement of public housing, and increased use of nonprofit developers to build and manage affordable housing.

Crowley credited the Obama administration with reversing the decline in HUD funding relative to need and for proposing a $1 billion allocation for the trust fund in the 2010 HUD budget. The fund — the first new federal program in 35 years for building and preserving low-income housing — was created a year ago but its funding stream was diverted to mortgage refinancing efforts.

As a potential revenue source she pointed to the federal mortgage interest deduction. At $80 billion, it’s nearly twice the size of the entire HUD budget. It allows deductions up to a million dollars for two homes, is claimed by less than a quarter of homeowners, and three-fourths of the benefit goes to the top 50 percent of taxpayers, she said.

Reducing the cap on the deduction would save billions, and changing the benefit to a tax credit — as proposed by President Bush’s tax reform commission — would save billions more and extend it to all homeowners.

The benefit “doesn’t encourage home ownership; it encourages people to get bigger houses and bigger mortgages,” she said.

MTO’s hotline, funded by the city, has taken more than 150,000 calls since 1994, collecting information and tracking data while assisting tenants. The study found that 70 percent of callers were women, and most requested assistance improving physical conditions of their buildings, including security.

“Many of these calls were generated from neighborhoods on the South and West Sides where there had been growth in rental housing and/or stress from foreclosure,” according to the report. Those areas also generated high numbers of calls related to involuntary relocations.

The length of time volunteers spend with callers on hotline requests has gone up “as problems become more acute and complex,” said study co-author Ann Barnds, a former MTO organizer now at UIC. With 10,000 calls a year, “that’s a lot of listening,” she said.

At bottom what’s needed is a new way of thinking about housing, said Bartlett. “It seems like the current approach treats housing as a financial investment instead of an investment in families, in kids doing well in school, in people staying healthy, in commuities where people feel attached because they know they can continue to live there,” he said.

Coalition Opposes Property Tax Hikes

A citywide tax reform coalition is demanding that proposals to raise property taxes be withdrawn.

The Tax Reform Action Coalition will hold a press conference at City Hall (2nd floor) at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, October 31.

Members of the TRAC, which includes 45 community groups from across the city, hope to give public comment on the city’s budget proposal after the City Council meeting Wednesday morning.

Community activists from West Town and Brighton Park will speak at the press conference Wednesday morning. “We’ll have important people there — registered voters and taxpayers,” said Barb Head of TRAC.

The stop-gap extension of the cap on increases in property tax assessments passed recently in Springfield was “far short of what we need,” Head said. Chicago taxpayers are getting “hammered” this year by reassessments reflecting five years of strong real estate appreciation, she said, while Mayor Daley proposes a huge property tax increase and County Board President Stroger seeks a hike for the forest preserves.

As a long-term, systemic reform, TRAC backs acquisition-based assessment, limiting increases to a small percentage and reassessing properties when they are sold, based on actual purchase prices. “It’s fair and predictable,” Head said, adding that longtime residents of neighborhoods undergoing development have seen their assessments go up by hundreds of percent in recent years.

Where should the money come from, if property tax hikes are unacceptable? Head suggests looking at the $400 million a year in property tax revenue that is set aside – with no public accountability – in over 150 TIFs in the city

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