Lathrop Residents Want Vacant Units Occupied


Residents of the Lathrop Homes public housing community and their advocates marched through their community recently to get the Chicago Housing Authority to open up the large number of vacant units in the development to people in need of affordable housing.

Cathy Johnson, a homeless mother of four, urging the CHA to have compassion on the homeless and open vacant units to those in need during a protest and rally at the Lathrop Homes in October 2008.
Photo by Mary C. Johns

“Keeping these units empty, in the midst of a housing crisis, is a terrible waste,” declared Cynthia Scott, a member of the Lathrop Leadership Team, during the press conference that followed the Oct. 23 march and rally.

“Leasing 300 units would help families avoid homelessness and reduce the crime and maintenance problems that come with vacancies,” she added.

Scott and the other protestors want the vacant units opened to house families at risk of becoming homeless because of foreclosure of rental buildings, condo conversions, fires and natural disasters, as well as for families who are already homeless and seeking shelter from the cold winter months.

Lathrop Homes has historically been the city’s most ethnically diverse low-income and working class public housing community. It is located on Chicago’s Near Northwest Side between the Bucktown and Roscoe Village neighborhoods bordered by Clybourn on the north, Damen on the east and the Chicago River on the south and west, and consists of three- and four-story apartment buildings and two-story row houses, according to CHA data.

Currently, over 600 units of Lathrop’s 925 units are vacant, and a total of 252 are occupied, according to Juanita Stephenson, the Local Advisory Council president.

Stephenson told Residents’ Journal after the march that the CHA was concerned about money “over morals.”

“It’s all about the benjamins. It’s all about the money,” she said.

“It’s not about the people of the city of Chicago. It’s about the money of the city of Chicago. This is a shame. There are people in desperate need of housing. We have some good units here. There are not people in desperate need of condos. There are desperate people in need of affordable housing,” Stephenson added.

Stephenson said she and others met with CHA officials the day before the protest to get the agency to open some of the vacant units. But Stephenson said they were told by CHA officials that they couldn’t open any “because there’s no funding.”

Stephenson said the march was held in an attempt to sway the CHA, the City of Chicago and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which will have new leadership under the next presidential administration.

“We’re having the rally because we’re saying to the CHA, and we’re saying to the city, and HUD: We will stand, we will fight and we will talk and keep negotiating with you until we get a piece of this community.

“Just like CHA has changed, plans can change. Times change and people change, and these plans can also change. So that’s what we’re hoping for, another change for the residents of Lathrop Homes. We’re hoping that after this election, there will be some change,” she said.

Stephenson said some of the units became vacant when people were evicted for being behind in their rent. But she added the majority of the units have been closed for years after the leaseholders were evicted under the One Strike federal policy for public housing. Other tenants left on their own.

“A lot of people left,” she explained. “A lot of people were evicted. Most of it was due to One Strike,” Stephenson said.

Under the One Strike rules, a leaseholder can be evicted for a crime committed by them or a family member or friends on or off any public housing site.

Stephenson added that the CHA has plans for redevelopment at Lathrop into a mixed-income community of market rate, affordable and public housing units, but has not announced when that will happen.

“They have plans to have a third, a third, a third. But when that going to happen, they don’t know right now,” she said.

In an October 21, 2008, letter to the CHA Board of Commissioners, members of the Lathrop Homes Local Advisory Council, Lathrop Leadership Team and the Logan Square Neighborhood Association proposed that CHA put 300 vacant units back on line by 2010 to house those in desperate need of affordable housing.

In the letter, the groups referred specifically to “Lathrop Homes families that are overcrowded and need Split Transfers, and families and seniors that left Lathrop (not because of lease compliance issues) over the last ten years and are seeking to return, and families on CHA’s waiting list, and military veterans and their families.”

In the letter, the group of advocates also accused the CHA of purposefully creating vacant units at the public housing site over a nine-year period with the intent of them remaining closed.

“For nearly ten years, the CHA has told Lathrop’s manager not to lease units after families move out. As a result, the number of vacant units at Lathrop has grown to over 600,” the letter stated.

Cathy Johnson, a homeless mother of four and member of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, urged the CHA to have compassion on the homeless and open the vacant units to those in need.

“I hope and I pray that you all won’t be one of us who are homeless. I’m asking and I’m begging CHA: Don’t do this to these people. Open up the doors and let us in, and let these people keep their places. They need this housing. It’s thousands of people out here homeless and living in shelters. We don’t need to be living in shelters. We need to be living in housing,” she said during the press conference.

CHA spokesperson Derek Hill told RJ on Oct. 27 that no one was available to comment on the letter to the CHA Board or to address the group’s concerns.

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