CHA Board Meeting Crashed with Concerns


Tenants and their advocates from the historic Julia C. Lathrop Homes, along with residents of the Cabrini-Green Rowhouses and some ex-offenders demanding better hiring practices from contractors, crashed the Chicago Housing Authority’s public board meeting March 15at the Seward Park Fieldhouse, 900 N. Hudson Ave.

In the jam-packed gym, the tenants and their advocates stood along the walls holding signs and shouting slogans against the CHA’s plans to demolish the Lathrop Homes public housing site. Other protestors aligned themselves on the opposite side of the room with video equipment to tape the meeting.

After the CHA Commissioners finished voting on resolutions on financial issues, general operations and tenant services, public speakers made short statements expressing concern about CHA’s plans for the Cabrini Rowhouses, Resident Owned Businesses, Section 3 hiring practices of CHA contractors and the preservation of Lathrop Homes.

Cabrini Rowhouses

The commissioners tabled the CHA’s recommendation to enter into a land transfer agreement between the CHA and Target Corporation for property within or near the former William Green Homes Development, which was part of the 10-section Cabrini-Green public housing site.

Nevertheless, Cabrini-Green Local Advisory Council President Carol Steele had a few words for the CHA board members about the proposed land transfers. Steele said she wasn’t made aware of the proposals in a timely way.

“In the future, I think you should look at minutes and the consensus made of the LAC agreeing to land transfers. So, I want y’all to take that into consideration, because I didn’t know that was going to be on the table today.

“I went to the committee meeting last Wednesday because I heard about it. So I want y’all to think about it, see us, and let us say ‘yes’ to a land transfer before y’all decide on voting on it,” she said.

Steele also expressed her discontent about the CHA’s attempt to renege on their promise to the tenants who moved out the Frances Cabrini Rowhouses, which were built in 1942. The row houses, the last occupied section of Cabrini-Green, were created for war-industry workers during World War II and designed by a ‘dream team’ of nine architects including Ernest Grunsfeld, Jr., designer of the Adler Planetarium and Astronomical Museum.

Documents approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development state that the CHA is supposed to rehab the rowhouses instead of demolishing them. The CHA started plumbing, electrical and other infrastructure upgrades in some of the rowhouses in 2007, and according to current data on their website, “interior and exterior renovations are ongoing.”

But CHA’s draft plans for 2011 suggest the rowhouses will be transformed into mixed-income housing, which upset Steele.

“Three years ago, the people in Cabrini-Rowhouses got 180-day notices to move so y’all can start on phase II of rehabbing the rowhouses,” Steele told the board members. “Now, the annual Transformation Plan says for us ‘To Be Determined.’

“We didn’t know that’s what y’all decided – that we were not going to be rehabbed. So, as Cabrini president, our decision is that (CHA should) assign capital funds money and start phase two of rehabbing the rowhouses,” Steele said.

You can read more of Residents’ Journal’s news coverage about CHA plans for the Cabrini-Rowhouses here:

A Plea for More Assistance for Resident Owned-Businesses

In the opening of every CHA Board meeting, Commissioner Mildred Harris gives a “centering thought” message for the day.

At the March 15 board meeting. Harris told the audience to give “10 percent” on things of little importance and “to concentrate 100 percent” on things of more importance that make a difference in the lives in the tenants.

When it was former Cabrini-Green resident Willile “Jr” Fleming’s turn to speak on behalf of the Anti-Eviction Campaign, he asked the CHA Commissioners to “concentrate 10 percent on what has not happened, and enforce 100 percent the rights of residents.”

According to federal housing law standards, a public housing authority can assist tenants in the process of establishing their own businesses or those who newly established one.

But Fleming told the commissioners that not many Resident Owned Businesses are being seen today because of the lack of CHA support.

“Resident Owned Businesses are not just employers,” Fleming said. “They are mentors, roles models, leaders of our community, leaders of the under-served and the forgotten. Resident Owned Businesses, if given the opportunity, enough of them can be the examples of success that our children and our community so desperately needs. Resident Owned Businesses are the best candidates for contracts. Not only will they enforce Section 3, they will enhance the Section 3 program.

“We ask the CHA to create a pilot program that will allow for Resident Owned Businesses to provide in non-traditional ways of addressing our economic (issues), jobs and employment….

“Who better than us to help us? I’ll tell you right now – no one,” Fleming declared, to the cheers of his supporters in the audience.

CHA tenant Melvin Bailey said that CHA and HUD are supposed to be in the business of “changing lives” through Resident Owned Businesses. But Bailey said tenants aren’t given the opportunity because CHA is giving contracts to other people and not hiring residents.
“It’s truly a disrespect to the community when you’re giving out grants to organizations that do not allow us the opportunity to come to the table and show ourselves, that we can prove ourselves as a new business coming to the community,” Bailey declared to the commissioners.

“We would like to take a long hard look at the grants you are providing to outside groups, the usual suspects, the people that have been at the table for years causing this problem. And we need to look at that.”

Lathrop Homes Preservation

Also at the CHA board meeting, Lathrop Homes tenants and their advocates kept up their fight to save the North Side public housing complex from demolition.

They said the CHA staff was creating a crisis at Lathrop by leaving vacant units unoccupied in the face of an affordable housing shortage.

Over a decade ago, the CHA froze all new leasing at Lathrop and planned to rehab the vacant units that same year, according to their 2000 Annual Plan.

Now, new documents from CHA indicate the agency plans to redevelop the site into a mixed-income community.

“I was told that if we planted our trees and flowers and took care of the land that there would be a place for us here and that our community would be here to stay – that in the future, young families could find at home in Lathrop,” said Lathrop resident Sandra Cornwell.

“Now we have been told differently. Now we’ve been lied to, abused and cheated out of our community where we live. What will happen to us? And what will happen to Lathrop Homes?”

Members of the Lathrop Leadership Team and the Logan Square Neighborhood Association took turns urging the CHA Commissioners to “halt the consolidations” at Lathrop so that no families are forced to move until the planning process is complete, and to begin leasing the more than 800 vacant units to families.

“Leaving half of Lathrop sitting vacant and boarded would harm the quality of life of both residents and neighbors and harm the planning process,” they told the CHA commissioners.

In addition, group members urged the commissioners to “revise the CHA development guidelines for Lathrop in order to start rehabbing the vacant units now and embrace full historic preservation of the site.”

Members of the two groups also want the CHA to use at least one vacant building north of Diversey Avenue to house a job training program, produce a proactive written plan as soon as possible dealing with: “How CHA will maintain any vacant buildings in excellent condition through smart utility strategies, regular inspections, and other means. How CHA will maintain neighborhood safety in the area around any vacant buildings, and how the CHA will improve the quality of life for exiting Lathrop tenants.”

They said that CHA intends to leave the buildings on the north end of the public housing complex “sitting vacant and boarded indefinitely.” The groups stated that the vacancies would turn a “physical asset into a perceived eyesore,” right in the middle of the planning process.

The members urged CHA to preserve and lease the historic buildings as public and affordable housing, with “no market rate.”

According to documents handed out at the meeting by the Lathrop Preservation Group, CHA’s plan is to spend $700 million to demolish the site and change it into a 1,200 unit mixed-income housing site. But the preservation group says their vision is for the CHA to spend $200 million to rehab 800 of the public housing units, which will lead to 200 jobs being created and preserve public housing, green space and historic buildings.

You can read more of Residents’ Journal’s news coverage on CHA’s Plans for Lathrop in our online archives at:

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