Lathrop Tenants Object to CHA’s Plan


Residents of the Julia C. Lathrop Homes and their allies recently declared that the Chicago Housing Authority is going forward with a redevelopment plan without their agreement.

Residents objected to CHA’s release in January of a Request for Qualifications for developers hoping to participate in the redevelopment of Lathrop, a historic North Side public housing complex.

Lathrop resident leaders said they have been meeting with CHA staff for months as part of a working group but that CHA issued the RFQ without their consent.

In an attempt to stop CHA from going forward with development, Robert Davidson, president of Lathrop’s Local Advisory Council, wrote a letter to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.

“As the president of the Lathrop Homes Local Advisory Council (LAC), the elected residents’ organization, I reject this RFQ. I urge you to ask the CHA not to issue an RFQ until the Working Group reaches consensus – the basis for decision-making that we agreed upon in our first meeting,” Davidson stated.

“Why is the CHA taking new steps to deplete the public housing stock in Chicago in the midst of a worsening affordable housing crisis? Why is the CHA reducing housing opportunities for poor families just one year after more than 200,000 people applied for 40,000 wait-list slots for Housing Choice Vouchers? Why is the CHA eliminating public housing units when families spend more than ten years on the waiting list for coveted vouchers?”

Stephanie Villinski, attorney for the Lathrop LAC, told RJ on January 11 that Davidson had yet to hear back from Donovan. HUD officials didn’t return RJ’s calls by press time.

The Plan for Lathrop

CHA announced in January that Lathrop “is expected to be redeveloped into a mix of new and rehabilitated, low-income, affordable and market-rate housing units.”

The next stage of the planning process will commence in spring 2010.

In past public announcements and formal documents, CHA officials have indicated that 400 public housing units will be a part of the 1,200 total units planned for the Lathrop redevelopment. But now, CHA seems to be backing away from that number.

The number of public housing units CHA expects developers to build at Lathrop was not included in the request for proposal. Lathrop currently has 925 units.

In December 2009, CHA officials said “no predetermined plan exists” for Lathrop regarding unit distribution, income mixes or the total number of units.

“Such a determination can only occur when the Working Group completes its task and the planning process begins in earnest with the selection of a development partner and the engagement of the broader community,” CHA’s press office stated in a Dec. 3 e-mail.

But the fact that the 400 units weren’t mentioned in the request for proposal disconcerted John McDermott, housing and land use director for the Logan Square Neighborhood Association and also a member of the Lathrop working group.

Interviewed Jan. 8, McDermott told RJ that residents and their advocates actually want much more public housing in the Lathrop redevelopment than the 400 units CHA initially promised.

McDermott said CHA was only willing to designate a third of the units at Lathrop for public housing, the same formula they have used at other redevelopment sites.

But McDermott noted that Lathrop is in a gentrified North Side neighborhood, where there is a shortage of housing for low-income people.
“We will continue to fight for 50 percent public housing at Lathrop,” McDermott said. “But they’re so wedded to the cookie cutter that public housing should be only one third. So it concerns us because they could be setting up a situation where they’ll say, the best plan for the place is 900, wherefore you would only get 300 public housing units, and that’s just the last thing in the world that they should be doing at Lathrop. It’s exactly the part of the city that’s supposed to get new public housing.”

Built in 1938, Lathrop is one of the nation’s first public housing developments and was determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the National Parks Service, according to Landmarks Illinois.

Calls to Preserve the Historic Lathrop Homes
Residents had been rallying for weeks before CHA issued the request for proposal. On Dec. 2, 2009, the Preserve Lathrop Homes Coalition – including Lathrop resident leaders and their allies – held a press conference at the Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington St., calling on Mayor Richard M. Daley and the CHA to support historic preservation at Lathrop and to retain at least half of the development as public housing.

Members of the coalition said Lathrop is located in an area with a wide range of job opportunities, market-rate housing, retail and other businesses.

The Lathrop residents, they added, are supported by a strong network of partnerships with social service providers as well as neighborhood and business organizations.

The development is located near a police district station and has great access to roads, CTA and even river transportation as well as schools and universities.

So far, CHA has maintained that only one-third of the redeveloped Lathrop Homes will be reserved for public housing units. Coalition members said CHA’s plan for Lathrop fails to address the historic lack of public housing on the city’s North Side and the current shortage of affordable housing crisis there.

Ellen Ray, a board member of the Logan Square Association, said there is a shortage of affordable housing for low- and moderate-income families in the Lathrop community, while there are plentiful options available for market-rate rentals and for- sale housing. Citing recent Chicago census data, Ray said the area surrounding Lathrop lost 34,000 affordable rental apartments between 2000 and 2007, largely due to condo conversion.

She added that rents in the community around Lathrop are so high that few families with Section 8 vouchers are able to use them in the area.

Jim Peters, president of Landmark Illinois, said preserving Lathrop would also give the CHA access to new sources of financing through the use of federal rehabilitation tax credits, which are not available for demolition and new housing construction.

“These tax credits have been used all across the country for other projects, including the recent renovation of a completely affordable housing project in Memphis, Tennessee, whose residents included music legend Elvis Presley,” Peters said.

A Long-Time Resident Speaks
“This is a multi-million dollar property and they’re trying to chase us out of our homes,” Lathrop resident Anateresa Capps told RJ during a one-on-one interview at her home on Dec. 7, 2009.

Capps, a mild-mannered, soft-spoken, Southern-speaking, elderly woman of multiple ethnicity, was upset about the prospect that she will soon have to depart from her unit in Lathrop.

Capps has lived at the development for the past 36 years, where she has raised four children, two girls and two boys, now all grown. Her 48-year-old daughter Lolita Gonzalez remains with her.

Capps said she wants to remain in her immaculately kept home. She and her daughter were frustrated and baffled as to why CHA wants to destroy the buildings instead of rehabbing them.

“These brick buildings are as solid as Allstate,” Gonzalez said.
Lathrop is more than one-half vacant currently. Capps said the CHA should also open the vacant units to the homeless.

“At a time when people are homeless, they are making more people homeless,” she said.
“This is all a political thing, and they don’t want to give these low-income housing [units] to these homeless people. And this is what needs to be done.”

Capps said if the CHA decided to tear down Lathrop, they wouldn’t be able to build any replacement housing in a timely fashion because of the economy.

“The economy is horrible. They’ll tear it down, put us on the other side like we’re in some kind of encampment, and this will sit vacant for the next ten years,” Capps said.

Capps said if she must leave the place she has long called home, she will choose to move into a CHA senior building with her daughter being her homecare provider instead of taking a Section 8 housing voucher.

Gonzalez said Lathrop was prime property and she believes that “greedy contractors” want to get their hands on the $798 million CHA projects as the cost of building an underground parking tunnel and a new mixed-income complex in place of Lathrop.

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