CHA says rowhouses won't be public housing

CHA says rowhouses won't be public housing

If you're a housing geek like many of us at The Chicago Reporter, and you read the Chicago Housing Authority's yearly plan, you'd probably have noticed a pattern by now--a promise to rehab the Cabrini rowhouses and keep them 100 percent public housing.

Well, up until last year. Then, the plans became uncertain for this block of 586 units that sits adjacent to Cabrini-Green, the first low-rise public housing built in the area in the 1940s for black war production workers.

After a year of saying they weren't sure what would happen, the CHA finally revealed its plan in federal court last week: The rowhouses won't be 100 percent public housing, and they might not be rehabbed either.

"CHA's position at this time is that it will not support 100 percent public housing at the Cabrini Green rowhouses," said Scott Ammarell, head counsel for the housing authority, in front of Judge Marvin Aspen last week.

Why did this news come out at the courthouse, rather than in a press release or another annual plan? Well, it's related to a court case filed in Chicago in the 1960s--Gautreaux v. Chicago Housing Authority. That case determined that the housing authority was building public housing in a racially segregated way, harmful to public housing residents and ordered that any new public housing be overseen by groups that would help CHA build units in less segregated neighborhoods, rather than Chicago's black ghettos.

Last year, one of those groups--Business and Professional People for the Public Interest--led by Alex Polikoff, the attorney in the Gautreaux case brought a concern to Judge Aspen. They put forth a motion, saying that they were concerned that if a large block of public housing remained in the area, it would jeopordize the future of the mixe-income community built around it.

"History tells us over and over again that a concentrated urban poverty situation is not going to be good for the families, and it’s not going to be good for the adjacent neighborhood,” Polikoff said, when I interviewed him last year.

What did CHA say to that? They said they'd think about it. And think they did. More than a year has passed since that original motion. In federal court, CHA said it had taken the issue to the working group that's trying to figure out what to do with the rest of Cabrini, but they hadn't reached a consensus. So CHA decided for them.

What will happen with the rowhouses if they aren't going to be rehabbed as traditional public housing? No one knows yet. Amarell says CHA will leave it to the working group.

Trouble is, members of the working group say the topic was never brought up in the first place. Elizabeth Rosenthal, lawyer for the residents at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, says the matter was never discussed until interim CEO Carlos Ponce appeared at last Thursday's meeting, telling everyone present that if they had an opinion on the future of the rowhouses, they should submit it to him by the close of business that day.

"It's a clear setup by CHA to create the illusion of process," said Rich Wheelock, lawyer for the group representing Cabrini residents for more than a decade after today's court session today.

"When CHA operates this way, they're making a mockery of the working group process," Wheelock said.

Legal Assistance Foundation submitted a letter on behalf of resident leadership to the CHA, asking that the rowhouses remain 100 percent public housing and be rehabbed. They cited several reasons--including the fact that rehab is more cost effective and would keep public housing on the Near North Side, an area that has little public housing and few Section 8 residents.

What was Judge Aspen's reply? Well, until a decision is made about whether or not new public housing will be built on the site of the rowhouses, it's unclear whether or not the Gautreaux case applies and he has jurisdiction to decide what happens.

So, for now, the decision, CHA says, is up to the working group. The same working group that supposedly held a "series of discussions" over the rowhouses so far? That remains to be seen.

Photo credit: David Schalliol

© Community Renewal Society 2011

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