Tenants and their advocates protested the Chicago Housing Authority’s redevelopment plans for the Lathrop Homes public housing site on the North Side, which is slated for demolition and replacement by a mixed-income community consisting of an array of for-sale, affordable rental and public housing apartments.
On Nov. 15, CHA held an open house inside the New Life Community Church, 2958 N. Damen Ave., to present three concepts for the Lathrop redevelopment and pose questions to Lathrop Community Partners, the development team selected to help revitalize the 32-acre public housing site that was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.
But outside the church, members of the Lathrop Leadership Team – composed of tenants and their advocates – declared that developer’s plans “three dense scenarios, and one destructive idea.” Some of the protestors held signs ridiculing the three concepts; one sign featured a picture of the Three Stooges television characters, to whom the three concepts were compared.
Speakers at the protestors’ press conference complained that the level of community involvement in the developer’s three scenarios did not fulfill CHA’s promise of an “engaged community process.” One speaker noted that the agency pledged to hold “public design charettes” but then scrapped this process later.
Miguel Suarez, a tenant of Lathrop for over two decades and chairman of the Lathrop Leadership Team, told me after the press conference that his members, including some other tenants, are against all three proposed plan scenarios. Suarez objected to the relatively small number of units for public housing tenants, 400 out of a total of 1,200 units, as well as the idea of building a high-rise building as part of the development, which he described as “crazy.”
“If the city and the CHA has spoken against high-rises for many other reasons,” Suarez asked, “why are they proposing high rises now?
“They did not include the community and its wrong. We are rejecting all three scenarios.”
Interviewed before the press conference, Mary Thomas, a nine year tenant of Lathrop, said she didn’t like the plans, which she called a “Pony and Dog Show.”
Thomas was particularly upset with what she described as a lack of any public participation in the planning process with the remaining tenants at Lathrop, where over 700 of the 925 total number of public housing units are vacant.
“They keeping claiming that they did it with us, and it’s a lie,” Thomas said, “They’re being deceptive and I don’t like it, period.”
Thomas, who lives at Lathrop with her last minor child, added that she will never trust what the CHA and their redevelopment team says to her about redevelopment and her relocation when the times comes for her to move.
“They’ve been too deceptive thus far in keeping promises to us,” she said.
Outline of Three Site Plan Concepts for Lathrop
The developer’s concepts differ in the amount of existing buildings they are willing to re-use and in how many taller buildings they will build to reach the 1,200 units they intend to build on the site.
The Riverworks Concept would “reuse…the historic buildings and unique architectural styles of the 1930s building stock.” It would add two residential towers, six improved pedestrian paths and three new east-west streets as well as a neighborhood retail “Main Street.”
The Gateways Concept emphasizes the use of existing building through additions and would build one 28-story residential tower, a new street running north and south and a new neighborhood retail zone.
The Greenscapes Concept includes redevelopment of the site with limited reuse of the existing buildings, the creation of a park featuring the Chicago River, and low- to mid-rise buildings throughout the site with no building taller than the existing 8-story CHA senior building located to the south of the public housing site.
Protesters speaking at their press conference outside the church said they rejected all three plan concepts because they “imposed high-density development that would tower over the neighborhood, create traffic gridlock, burden local taxpayers and bring an excess of risky market rate development into the area.”
None of the three plan ideas would preserve enough of Lathrop’s historic buildings to utilize federal Historic Rehab Tax Credits, which the protesters claim could “provide tens of millions of dollars for the revitalization of Lathrop.
The three site plans for Lathrop did not impress Alderman Proco Joe Moreno (1) either, who represents the majority of tenants there.
In his e-blast on Nov. 14, Moreno said he “does not believe that any of the individual scenarios on the table are an acceptable plan to move Lathrop Homes forward.”
Moreno recently sent a letter to CHA officials stating his concerns.
“The different scenarios each have positive aspects, but all involved must be open to alternative ideas and plans that exist outside of the confines of these three scenarios. The open houses this week should be the beginning of this conversation,” Moreno stated.
Additionally, Moreno stated in the email that “the residents’ desires for the site” were his “primary focus,” adding that he was committed “to ensure that no current residents of Lathrop are displaced during the redevelopment stage(s).”
Summarizing the three proposals, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) stated in a Nov. 9 letter to CHA CEO Charles Woodyard that after “a thorough review” of the three proposals, he “concluded that they are lacking in several key respects, including: excessive and unprecedented density. Lack of meaningful public participation in the planning process. Failure of any scenario to preserve the historic character of the site, and failure to meet CHA’s goal of LEED ND platinum or gold certification.”
“I will not accept the premise that revitalization of Lathrop Homes should be accomplished primarily through excessively dense high-rise residential development, regardless of whether these units are market rater or affordable,” Waguespack wrote. “This approach is fundamentally flawed because it attempts to solve one problem, segregated public housing, by replacing it with another equally damaging problem, excessive density. In so doing, LCP demonstrates a lack of concern for the implications of the plan for Lathrop on the long term health and vitality of the surrounding neighborhoods.”
James Isaacs, CHA’s Director of Real Estate Development, said during an interview in the open house that the proposal for high-rises was just another housing option for residents to choose from.
“We always believe in providing a range of housing opportunities for our residents,” Isaacs said. “Not everybody likes living in a low-rise building. So, we’re looking at different ways to provide different kinds of housing opportunities for residents,” Isaacs said.
Regarding tenants’ concerns about the large number of vacant units at Lathrop, CHA spokesperson Wendy Parks said during an interview in the open house that “many of those units are severely deteriorated” and it wouldn’t be right for the CHA to allow anyone to live there.
“We have to ensure that all of our units are safe, reliable and vibrant for the community. So we cannot put anyone, I don’t care who it is, in a unit that is deteriorating,” Parks said.
The Developer’s Response
A total of 1,600 units are projected for redevelopment of Lathrop, which consists of 800 for-sale, 400 affordable rentals, and 400 public housing units.
During the open house, Residents’ Journal asked Kerry Dickson, a representative of Lathrop Community Partners, the development team chosen in 2010, why twice as many for-sale units were being proposed for Lathrop as compared with public housing units?
“It’s the development team’s opinion that this is in the best income mix to create a successful mixed-income community,” he said.
Following the initial open house, CHA and Lathrop Community Partners said they intend to use the community’s input to inform and refine a “second generation” of plans for Lathrop and then present them at a community meeting slated for spring 2013 to work, according to Dickson.