Chicago's public housing residents haven't given up fighting


Most people talk about public housing in Chicago like a relative that died years ago–only as a distant memory, something we shake our heads at but have moved on from.

But one group of residents is trying to show they’re still here–and still fighting for their homes.

This morning, a large group of residents from all over Chicago will descend on the Chicago Housing Authority Board of Commissioners meeting at Seward Park, near Cabrini-Green. Residents of Lathrop Homes will demand CHA rescind recently issued notices that would close half the North Side development. And residents from all over Chicago will join the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign to demand a moratorium on all move-outs, consolidations and evictions until residents are meaningfully included in the decision-making process.

What prompted this protest? The Logan Square Neighborhood Association says CHA recently issued 70 180-day notices to residents at Lathrop Homes, asking them to move south of Diversey Parkway to the other half of the development to consolidate residents for safety reasons. The association says it was told the development is unsafe because of a decline in the number of residents at Lathrop.

But the association, which helps organize Lathrop residents, says it isn’t buying that story. Why? Because the decline in population at Lathrop wasn’t an accident, it says. Less people are living there because during a 10-year period as residents moved out, CHA didn’t allow the apartments to be re-leased. Instead, each one was boarded up.

Furthermore, it doesn’t want all those units sitting vacant. For one, it says, it could lead to damage that would render the buildings unfixable in the future. Two, it doesn’t want half of the development to seem like a “ghost town” and an “eye sore” in the midst of planning what happens next at Lathrop.

With the initial planning phase set to begin in April, it seems that residents don’t want to give developers any more reasons to try and tear down their homes.

The CHA board meeting, along with the next few months until Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel takes office, will be the last in Mayor Richard M. Daley’s reign over public housing in Chicago. Daley’s push to demolish most of Chicago’s public housing and build only a fraction of units in its place has been nothing if not controversial. Now that Daley’s era is coming to an end, are the residents likely to get a more sympathetic ear from Emanuel?

We reached out to the Emanuel transition team and CHA for comment on this story, and we’ll update this article when they respond.

After 11 years of the Plan for Transformation, many of the buildings that defined Chicago’s public housing may be gone. Many of the residents may have moved away. But this morning shows that while much of public housing’s history may have been demolished, the spirit that defines the residents there isn’t gone yet.

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  • I live across the Lathrop.
    As I understand people currently living there will get free housing in the redeveloped place. Why do they protest then? They do not trust CHA?

  • Thanks very much for your question, kostyan.

    The answer is a bit complicated. One, people who lived in public housing in 1999 will be guaranteed a spot in whatever new development is put onsite at Lathrop, but it will not be free. Just as they pay 30 percent of their income now, they will do so then.

    Although I can't speak for residents, I would say many that I've met do not trust CHA. It may be because of things they've experienced with CHA in the past, or maybe just a general distrust of authority. In general, most of the CHA residents I have talked with don't always believe that officials are working on their behalf.

    As far as why they protest, the residents at Lathrop and their supporters in the surrounding community are looking for a very different kind of development than the kinds that CHA has built so far. They want mostly public housing with some affordable units, while CHA wants to build market rate condos instead. Like I said, this part is complicated. If you want to know more, I wrote this blog post awhile ago, talking about all the issues. You might find it interesting just as someone who lives in the neighborhood, as there are many old photos and memories of the development, as well as policy information:

    Again, thanks for writing. Please keep reading and let us know what you think!

  • Since I'm paying market rate now I definitely prefer market rate condos across the street. And the deal for the Lathrop residents sounds good as for me - they'll have newly build condo for 30% of low income, e.g. 3K per year. People just need some legal warranties about their place in the redeveloped condos.
    If the place stays public it'll degrade sooner or later, and will be segregated as it is now.

  • First off, thanks for all your great work, Megan! I just want to clarify for the folks who left comments that this "plan" for current residents to get a new condo for 30% of the their income is not a plan at all. There is a working group attempting to determine what "revitalization", (which would include market rate housing) will look like. The lathrop residents have been promised NOTHING. Also, to the first comment, residents will certainly not get free housing. Most public housing residents PAY RENT. Many work, some receive Social Security as disabled persons, etc. I know personally one of the Lathrop residents who pays $1300 per month for her rowhouse, because her income is sufficient to pay that amount--it's worth it to her, of course, because she loves Lathrop, raised her kids there, has access to transportation, grocery stores, and knows that if she loses her job, her income will adjust and she won't lose her home just because she lost her job. We need more of that and not less! Also, the plan for rehabbing at Lathrop (the original plan was to rehab and maintain, not to "revitalize")has been dragged out for 10 years! Some of the buildings have fallen into disrepair because CHA (and HUD)did not maintain the buildings, manipulated folks away with vouchers and stopped leasing vacant apartments to folks 10 years ago! Now we're forcing residents to bare the cost--by giving up their homes, by knowing that their neighbors will not have a place to return as they were promised. Why? Who benefits? Btw, the estimated cost for "revitalization" is $700 million; the estimated cost of rehabbing, (which could have been distributed over the last 10 years and would have been less) is $200 million. Let's listen to the residents! They are the experts. They propose that CHA rehab units, creating jobs for residents. They propose that the buildings won't deteriorate while CHA spends another 5+ years (they extended the deadline by another 5 years) if we lease up from the long list of families waiting for housing. Why board up habitable buildings. They say they have to because the high vacancy rate makes them unsafe. Again, how is it a better solution to board them up when folks need housing and they have no plan anyway--which is exactly what residents asked at the board meeting yesterday. They were not heard, but, they are organizing--and they will be heard!

  • In reply to Hollykrig:

    This night we had what seemed to be a party at Lathrop: group of young people drinking, littering, shouting. It did not end even at 1am. If Lathrop is open to public, it'll be much worse.
    What do you recommend to do? Not sleep at nights? Police just ignores them.

  • In reply to kostyan:

    My mother and I moved to Lathrop Homes in 1968, which was and still is a diverse community offering hope and vision to become what American

  • In reply to kostyan:

    Mixed use is the only way to go. Im a little tired of the whining of the residents. They are tenants. They dont own the land any more than any other tenant in any other rental situation does. Public housing was supposed to be a place for people to get on their feet. Not a place to raise 5 generations.

  • In reply to kostyan:

    The buildings are falling apart and in disrepair. A mixed community would be best for all people that are involved. Residents get a brand new place that they can afford, along with what should be shops and restaurants and bars along the river front, and the jobs it would create. The entire neighborhood's value goes up.
    Let's be clear here. Lathrop residents have no "right" to anything. The city promises them a roof over their head. It is at the discretion of the CHA where that roof is. If you say the reason you need public housing is that you never had any opportunities, then I ask how you expect to find an opportunity living segrated from the rest of the neighborhood behind decaying brick walls?

  • In reply to kostyan:

    Frankly I'm sick of this debate. When that wrecking ball arrives I will be having a party myself. Being a homeowner up the street on Damen I'm sick of the neighborhood. Gang bangers and gang graffiti all over the buildings (quick mart, gas station and residents garages in the area) and it's getting worse. It was never this bad. Gun shots are heard every so often also. I know those kids ruin it for everyone else, but Lathrop has to go. Market Rate has my vote.

  • I grew up at Lathrop on the North side of Diversey. I think the situation is a tragedy. Good people need public housing in the Lathrop location. The fact is that these buildings would be filled quickly if the CHA would work proactively to help the needy instead of locking them out. Today, most of the buildings are in good shape to renovate; vacating them will result in buildings that are beyond repair with no option but to raze the community.

    Many of us benefited from living in the Lathrop community, attending Schneider School and The Cotter Boys and Girls Club. The community has the poential to benefit generations to come. We can't allow this tragedy to play out!

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