Lathrop Homes was public housing before public housing existed.
Built in the late 1930s as a project of the Works Progress Administration during the depression, the low-rise brick buildings along the Chicago River don't look like the massive concrete towers built decades later. The courtyard layout, complete with archways, decorative windows and stone medallions are unique--unique enough to be recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, state officials announced Monday.
But the designation doesn't guarantee that Lathrop will be preserved, but it will make it harder to tear down and makes the site eligible for preservation tax credits from the federal government.
Community advocates fighting for Lathrop's future were pleased with the news, but emphasize that preserving the buildings is just one aspect of their fight to save the complex. They also want to guarantee that Lathrop will remain housing for low and middle income families, rather than being converted to market rate units.
"This is a moment to savor, but the fight goes on. CHA must change its development guidelines for Lathrop to eliminate market-rate development and maximize public and affordable housing," said John McDermott, housing organizer at Logan Square Neighborhood Assocation. "And CHA's revitalization plan for Lathrop must replace all 925 of Lathrop's public housing units -- if not on site, then in the surrounding North Side communities."
If the plan to redevelop Lathrop includes significant preservation of the site, it could be eligible for tax credits that could fund up to 20 percent of the rehab. What's more, the designation means that the Chicago Housing Authority has to protect Lathrop's buildings from deterioration while the plan is decided, according to McDermott.
Community advocates have often complained that 12 years have passed since the Plan for Transformation was begun, and that has meant buildings have fallen into disrepair, making preservation more difficult.
The Chicago Housing Authority says they're pursuing historic preservation of the site and are working with developers and community partners to determine Lathrop's future.
"CHA is currently in the process of working with the developer, Lathrop Community Partners - which was selected in late 2010 - to move this initiative forward. Lathrop Community Partners has an expertise in historic preservation," said CHA spokesman Matt Aguilar, in a statement.
"The redevelopment of Lathrop is a meticulous process with a variety of issues that need to be addressed to ensure we rebuild a diverse, connected neighborhood that becomes home to safe, healthy families."
In 2010, I took a walk with Perry and Vince Parsino, two brothers who were raised in Lathrop Homes and are now advocating for its preservation as a low-income housing site. Here's their vision for the future of Lathrop:
Want to see what Lathrop looked like before the boarded up windows and crumbling brick? Take a look at these slideshows of Lathrop's construction and photos from families who lived in the complex during its heyday:
Photo credit: David Schalliol
© Community Renewal Society 2012