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Aldermen back Lathrop residents’ right to stay

Thu, Aug 23, 2012

Built in 1938, Lathrop Homes is considered a model of public housing because of its low-rise construction and landscaped areas for recreation.

Alderman Joe Moreno (1st ward) and Robert Davidson, president of the Lathrop Homes Local Advisory Council (LAC) called on the Chicago Housing Authority on July 20 to keep its commitment to residents that they will not be relocated during a revitalization process beginning next year.

It has been a long and difficult road for the residents of Julia C. Lathrop Homes, a public housing development that has been a part of Chicago’s North sSide landscape since the 1930s. In a nationwide trend to eliminate public housing entirely, much debate has ensued over Lathrop. Of its 925 units, 700 remain vacant. All 170 families have been pushed to the south end of the development, and fears of demolition and relocation have become increasingly pervasive among residents.

During a Resident Academy meeting held on June 27, Veronica Gonzalez, a CHA staff member, said that none of the 170 families would be allowed to continue living at Lathrop once revitalization of the property starts at the beginning of next year: current residents would have to leave. Her reasons included the possibility that utilities might stop working, and reconstruction of the buildings would pose safety risks.

CHA had always maintained that families would be allowed to remain in the development throughout the renovation process. With the new realization that they might no longer be able to call Lathrop home, and might in fact be left without places to live, residents reacted with shock, devastation, and anger.

“People are so confused,” said Cynthia Scott, a resident and member of the Lathrop Leadership Team. “They just don’t know what’s happening.”

A Lathrop resident for 27 years, Scott is one of several residents who have publicly voiced their opinions against the vacancies and possible demolition of what has been their home for decades.

“I feel as though people should stay if they want to,” says Scott. “There is no reason to have to move. You are doing one side [of Lathrop] at a time.”

Mounting concern led residents to write a letter to Charles Woodyard, CEO of Chicago Housing Authority, asking for clarification on the matter. In his response, Woodyard stated “the [Relocation Rights] Contract specifically provides for relocations in the event of emergency or safety and security considerations such as those that were suggested at the June 27th meeting.”
He went on to say “that the statements made by CHA staff at the meeting were consistent with CHA’s and residents’ rights under the Contract.”

The question still remains as to why the issue of relocation was never mentioned to residents prior to June 27, and furthermore, why residents were continually told that they could stay within the development throughout the revitalization when they could not.

CHA officials have maintained that they must keep units at Lathrop vacant because they have fallen into disrepair. Legal proceedings could result if they are leased out.

However, an investigation conducted by the Chicago Reporter questioned the CHA’s intentions. There is speculation that CHA is deliberately keeping the units vacant so that they will continue to deteriorate, making it easier to rationalize razing them. Though the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires public housing agencies to get permission before allowing units to remain vacant, CHA has failed to comply, and HUD has yet to take action. Residents and advocates of Lathrop have come to believe this situation is a result of CHA’s desire to cut ties with public housing entirely.

The Logan Square Neighborhood Association and Lathrop Homes’ Local Advisory Council hosted a rally on Saturday, July 14, in protest of CHA’s decision to keep units at Lathrop vacant while forcing current residents out. Despite the concerns that have plagued residents, the rally was a time to celebrate. In February of this year, the National Park Service listed Lathrop Homes in the National Register of Historic Places, a victory for residents and allies who have fought hard for its preservation.

In a fact sheet distributed in April of this year, the registry makes Lathrop eligible for federal historic rehab tax credits, which will fund up to 20 percent of its revitalization if a decision is made to do so. If the future of Lathrop includes substantial preservation, the CHA will be required to protect the structure of the buildings from deterioration during the planning process, and to submit the project’s final plan to the federal government’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation for review.

Though Lathrop’s recognition as a historical site is a positive turn in what has been an arduous journey, residents continue to live in uncertain territory. Despite the listing, the National Register does not offer automatic protection from demolition. Lathrop must obtain City of Chicago landmark status in order to completely avoid becoming demolished.

“I will advocate for a process that respects the requirements of the Federal Section 106 regulations that govern properties that are on the National Register of Historic Places,” said Alderman Waguespack (32nd ward). “A revitalization process that adheres to these requirements should be capable of allowing the existing residents to remain at Lathrop Homes and minimize further disruption to their quality of life and preserve their status as valued members of their neighborhood.”

Located on the Chicago River, with its historic architecture and widespread green lawns and trees, Lathrop is surrounded by industry, making it an ideal spot for job opportunities.

“Here, you’re close to stores, you’re close to transportation,” says Scott. “What more could you want?”

When the city had plans to demolish a percentage of the local businesses and replace them with a storage facility, residents refused to sit back and watch. The storage facility was never built.

The strongest aspect of Lathrop Homes remains the bond between residents. “My neighbor cooks. When she cooks, she sends me over a plate. We check in on each other. We help each other out. It’s a community.”

Lauren Jensik, StreetWise Contributor

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