Public housing, market-rate units, and the Lathrop Homes

Public housing, market-rate units, and the Lathrop Homes

Whether market-rate units are included in the mix at a restructured Julia C. Lathrop Homes, a public housing development on the city’s North Side, is expected to be one of the major issues that arises during an upcoming planning process about the site.

The development, which hugs the east bank of the Chicago River on either side of West Diversey Avenue, has for years now stood as a flashpoint in the debate about how CHA manages its public housing portfolio.

The vast majority of Lathrop’s units–approximately 750 out of 920 that exist, according to an analysis conducted by the Chicago Housing Initiative–currently sit vacant, angering remaining Lathrop tenants and housing advocates who say the tens of thousands of people on CHA’s wait list deserve a shot to lease them.

CHA considers the empties inhabitable, labels them “offline” and does not use them when calculating the official CHA vacancy rate. (For more about the dispute, see Megan Cottrell’s post from earlier this morning.)

“There are many units that are not habitable and also, given that we are at the eve of our planning process [at Lathrop], it doesn’t make sense to invest the resources required to make them habitable in order to move families in because only to have them temporarily move them out,” said Jadine Chou, CHA’s director of asset management, told The Chicago Reporter today.

Some of the contours of Lathrop’s next phases are already in place. The housing agency says that the total number of units at a revamped Lathrop will be determined during planning, though in a request for qualifications it released early last year, 800 to 1,200 units were listed as the “redevelopment scope” at the property.

Whatever the final number, one third of the total–or 400 at maximum, less than the total filled and empty units that exist at Lathrop today–will be reserved for public housing residents according to the request, with inclusion of affordable and market rate yet to be determined. At housing agency redevelopment sites part of CHA’s Plan for Transformation, the agency has generally set a goal of making the final unit mix equal parts public housing, affordable housing and market-rate units.

The housing agency’s governing board today approved a $1.1 million contract with Lathrop Community Partners, a group that includes Related Midwest, Megellan Development Group, Ardmore Associates, Bikerdike Redevelopment and Heartland Housing. According to CHA documents, Lathrop Community Partners will draft a master redevelopment plan for the site. A working group will manage public participation and debates.

During today’s board meeting, some speakers said building new market-rate homes at the Lathrop site would saturate the existing for-sale housing market in the neighborhood, which is close to Lake View, Bucktown and Logan Square.

David Duggan, president of the South Lakeview Neighbors group, said there already was a significant “overhang” of for-sale units in the area that wouldn’t get sold faster if more for-sale homes were built.

Miguel Suarez, a 22-year resident of the development, meanwhile, told CHA’s board this morning that they shouldn’t wait for the new planning process to complete. “These vacant apartments need to be leased,” he said.

Jame Reynolds, chair of CHA’s board, responded by saying it wasn’t a good idea to move people into empty Lathrop units with a long-term plan in place.

© Community Renewal Society 2011

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