One of the last vestiges of the Cabrini-Green public housing complex on Chicago’s Near North Side, the Frances Cabrini Rowhouses are not going down without a fight. The Cabrini-Green Local Advisory Council on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Housing Authority for what residents say are broken promises to rehab the complex and preserve its status as entirely low-income public housing.
In 2000, the CHA’s Plan for Transformation spared the Rowhouses the fate of the now-demolished adjacent high-rises, and the CHA announced that they would be rehabilitated and “remain 100 percent public housing.”
According to the suit, between the end of 2006 and spring of 2008, residents were relocated to allow for the units’ rehabilitation, but only one phase out of four was ever completed. Today, 146 of the units have been successfully rehabbed, while more than 400 sit vacant. All the while, according to Chicago Housing Initiative representative Jessie Avraham, 60,000 families remain on the CHA’s waiting list for low-income housing.
According to the suit, it wasn’t until September 2011 that the CHA first announced a dramatic shift from its 2000 pledge, declaring its support for the conversion of the complex into mixed-income housing. This meant that only one-third of the units would be set aside for public housing.
A written statement provided by Wendy Parks, the CHA’s public information officer, stressed that such plans are not a done deal. “The agency is working with a planner and the Near North Working Group to develop a plan for the future of Cabrini, including the row homes,” the statement said. “However, CHA has not announced any decision on the future of the row homes.”
The experience at the Rowhouses largely mirrors that of Lathrop Homes, on the border of Bucktown and Roscoe Village–another centrally located complex in a high-income area. Like Cabrini, Lathrop has experienced a drain in its population as the CHA has relocated residents, citing needed rehabilitation to its units. But The Chicago Reporter’s July/August 2012 issue found that, instead of being rehabbed, the buildings have sat empty and fallen into further disrepair. Today, an expansive mixed-income development is in the works. Thus far, plans have called for 400 public housing units within the development, or more than 500 fewer than were originally included in Lathrop Homes. According to Parks at the CHA, no plan has been finalized.
Referring to the CHA’s new housing blueprint, “Plan Forward,” Avraham said Thursday at a press conference held at the Cabrini Rowhouses that it “incorporates the same failed policies of the Plan for Transformation.”
“We can say failed policies because we have already seen the proof of it with the demolition and privatization model that has played out over the past 13 years,” she said. “Are you aware that it has resulted in the net loss of over 16,000 low-rent apartments in the public housing pool?”
Carol Steele, the president of the Advisory Council, has lived in Cabrini for all of her 62 years, many of which were in times when the nearby high-rises were synonymous in Chicago with crime, urban blight and gang-turf battles. “We weathered the storm,” she said. “Now that Cabrini is a nice safe neighborhood, they want us to go.”