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Cover Story: Lathrop Resident, ‘More public housing units

Wed, Feb 5, 2014

Mary (Amaryy Palmer) and Joseph (Elian Morris) lead Posada procession through the Lathrop Homes (12-21-2013)

Mary (Amaryy Palmer, 15) and Joseph (Elian Morris, 13) lead a Posada procession through Lathrop Homes on December 21. A Latin American pre-Christmas tradition, the Posada re-enacts the Gospel story of Mary and Joesph searching for shelter in Bethlehem until they are finally welcomed at a celebration. The Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance organized this special Posada to shine a light on the Chicago Housing Authority’s proposed plans for Lathrop, where hundreds of apartments have been left vacant and where a proposed plan would make nearly half the replacement units market-rate. Photo by Deborah McCoy

An unintended policy effect of the 45-year-old Gautreaux federal court decision is a reduced number of units for public housing residents at Lathrop Homes in the proposed master plan for its redevelopment, says Miguel Suarez, who has lived there for 24 years.

Suarez chairs the Lathrop Homes Leadership team: Lathrop residents, alumni, neighbors and concerned citizens who seek to save public housing units there. He is also a board member of the Chicago Housing Initiative (CHI), which released a study January 15 that said the City of Chicago has invested over $650 million in the Chicago Housing Authority as part of its Five Year Affordable Housing Plans since the start of the CHA’s Plan for Transformation (see Page 6). The CHI study says the City’s investment has resulted in the destruction of 18,650 public housing units and reconstruction of only 4,260 affordable units — a net loss of 14,000 affordable homes.

Lathrop is one of CHI’s prime examples. Its 925 units of housing were built on 37 acres between the Chicago River and the intersection of Diversey, Clybourn, and Damen in 1938. The development consists of three- and four-story red and brown brick apartment buildings and two-story row houses.

In 1999, 747 units were occupied at Lathrop, according to the CHI study. However, CHA stopped leasing units in 2000 because it said rehab would begin the next year.
“They kept us in limbo since the year 2000,” Suarez said. “A lot of people took Section 8 vouchers and left.” The CHI study cites CHA’s annual Moving to Work plans to show a steady slide in occupied units since 1999. Only a little over 150 Lathrop units are now occupied, and more than 750 are boarded up.

As the CHA developed a plan for Lathrop’s rehab, Suarez and the Lathrop Leadership Team favored a mix of half public housing units and half subsidized affordable housing for working people.

Lathrop Homes

Built in the late 1930s, Lathrop Homes contains considerable green space and two great lawns by Jens Jensen. CHI Photo

However, the master plan of Lathrop Community Partners would bring back 1208 units: 400 public housing, 92 senior citizen public housing units, 212 affordable homes – and 504 market rate units, according to Chicago Real Estate Daily. The draft master plan was presented last July 30 and hotly discussed at a December 10 meeting attended by 300 people.

Lathrop Community Partners was named master developer by the CHA and the Lathrop Homes Working Group, which includes representatives from CHA, Habitat, Lathrop Homes Local Advisory Council, the City of Chicago, the First Ward alderman’s office, community members of nearby Logan Square and Hamlin Park – and BPI, or Business & Professional People for the Public Interest, which has protected Gautreaux interests since 1970.

Filed in 1966, the Gautreaux case charged that the CHA had segregated public housing residents in isolated African-American neighborhoods. In 1969, a federal judge said that CHA could no longer build public housing in black neighborhoods unless it also built elsewhere, according to the BPI website. CHA could no longer build high-rises for families and it could not build large concentrations of public housing in any neighborhood.

Today, the Gautreaux focus is to ensure “that CHA’s Plan for Transformation creates well-working, mixed income communities in what were once public housing-dominated neighborhoods,” according to the BPI website. Public housing construction is forbidden in segregated neighborhoods unless “enough development activity is underway or planned that economic integration is likely in the short run and racial integration might follow in the long run.”

However, Suarez referred to a Chicago Reporter story in 2000 that quoted a letter to CHA attorneys saying that a continuing problem in Gautreaux is the lack of available land in nonminority areas of the city.

“That’s why I feel the BPI focus on the desegregation of public housing is unfair, they seem to be part of the CHA and if anything very much against what the people want today,” Suarez said. “What they’re talking about, we’ve had already. We have retail stores all around us.” Across the Chicago River from Lathrop, for example, is a shopping center that includes Target, Harlem Furniture at the Room Place, Pep Boy’s Auto, Home Depot, Joann Fabrics, Strack & Van Til food store and Petco.

“We are already a diverse working class community and have always been a diverse working class community,” Suarez said. “I know the stereotype that goes along with public housing. It does not fit Lathrop and has never fit Lathrop. I don’t know what CHA is trying to do other than total gentrification of the neighborhood.”

Market rate housing is unnecessary for economic integration, he said, because Lathrop is surrounded by neighborhoods like Bucktown, Roscoe Village and Logan Square. “The ironic thing is a lot of this market rate housing is also empty, they’re not selling.”

Also troubling to Suarez is the proposed construction of an 18-story apartment high-rise at the south end of Lathrop. “Our tallest building is four stories.”

Regarding the tower near his ward, Ald. Scott Waguespack, (32nd ward) said at CHI’s City Hall press conference January 15 that the Lathrop master plan disregards CHA’s history with high-rises and shows unaccountability to local citizens.

“They’re very solid people, they don’t need more market rate,” Waguespack said. “We are doing the exact opposite of what 17 neighborhood community groups say they want.”

However, Chicago Real Estate Daily said that Waguespack has only 10 percent of Lathrop in his ward and that some of his constituents did want market rate housing in the Lathrop redevelopment.

While there would be considerable demolition south of Diversey, much of Lathrop between Diversey and Wellington would be maintained, according to a map of the development on the Lathrop Community Partners website. “The look & feel of historic Lathrop is maintained and featured.”

Lathrop Homes: Occupancy

Source: Chicago Housing Initiative

The plan would feature two new mixed-use buildings on either side of Diversey at Clybourn as well as new retail on Schubert Avenue farther south. The high-rise, or “iconic building,” would be at the south end, at the bend in the Chicago River. There would be a new public plaza and amphitheatre as well as riverfront public space to accommodate a farmers’ market.

River amenities would include a boardwalk, multi-use trail, boat launch and wetlands. Preservation of open space is addressed with a Jens Jensen’s “Great Lawn.”

However, Jensen established two Great Lawns at Lathrop, according to a Friends of the Parks newsletter last fall.

“Both lawns opened onto and faced the Chicago River, providing residents with the amenity of the river.” The Friends of the Parks newsletter also criticized the plan because it would destroy buildings on the south side of Diversey and replace them with higher density mid-rises and high-rises. “This concept will significantly reduce Jensen’s landscape. Much of the public open area, courtyards and garden spaces will be destroyed…”

According to the Lathrop Community Partners website, anyone who lived in public housing as of October 1, 1999 and who has remained lease-compliant can return to the rehabbed Lathrop. Only 250 families have chosen to do so. Phased construction is slated to begin in 2015.

Lathrop Community Partners includes Related Midwest, Magellan Development Group, Heartland Housing Inc., Bickerdike Redevelopment Corp. and Ardmore Associates.

Suzanne Hanney
StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

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