Former Ickes residents want their community redeveloped

September 27, 2013

Flickr/Curtis Locke
The former Harold Ickes public housing development.

Residents of a former Chicago public housing development in the South Loop are angry that the DePaul University stadium is moving faster than replacement housing for them.

In 1999, the Chicago Housing Authority began tearing down public housing as part of its $1.6 billion Plan for Transformation. The agency promised residents the right to return in new mixed-income communities. That included residents living in the Harold Ickes Homes near 22nd and State Street. The last building came down three years ago.

“They haven’t delivered on that,” said Rod Wilson, executive director of the Lugenia Burns Hope Center. “That was ‘99. We’re in 2013, we’re talking 14 years later. Some of the residents here have been gone five and six years and this empty lot that we’re standing in, is where housing should be at.

A few blocks away, McCormick Place is expanding to include a stadium for DePaul University and hotel and is being built with $55 million in tax increment financing dollars. Earlier this week, the board that runs McCormick Place selected an architect for the project. McCormick Place to include a DePaul University Arena and Hotel.

CHA says it plans to start the Ickes redevelopment process with the city next year. The former site will have mixed-income housing and commercial retail.

The Harold Ickes Homes, opened in 1955, was named after Harold L. Ickes, Secretary of the Interior under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. At its peak, Ickes comprised 11 buildings. CHA said it began closing the development in 2007 because of safety and security concerns. The last five families left in 2010.

Dorothy Jennings moved out of the Ickes Homes in 1999 and received a subsidized housing voucher. She’d like to see the redevelopment be racially diverse and point to the neighborhood’s amenities. Jennings still talks as if she’s part of the Ickes community.

“We’re close to bus stops here. We’re close to community churches, grocery stores and would be a nice idea to bring it back,” said Jennings, who’s no longer receiving a voucher.

Kareem Ligon, 19, grew up in Ickes.

“I just want the Ickes back. We started a little group for the Ickes - O.T.B. - only the buildings,” Ligon said. He lives with his aunt in Englewood and said the neighborhood “it’s too horrible, the shootings. We’re too close.”

A working group - composed of residents, city officials, community leaders and other stakeholders - formed in 2010 to determine the future of the Ickes site. Originally, phase one of reconstruction was slated to begin in 2012. That would create a mixed-income housing development. An early powerpoint plan states “The new Ickes will face outward, not inward. All people will be welcome into the neighborhood to spend money here and participate in recreation. And we will keep all the people who live and visit safe.”

CHA says the working group hasn’t disbanded, but members say they haven’t met since 2011.

In an annual plan CHA sends to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development says this about Ickes: “CHA plans to issue a joint developer solicitation with the City of Chicago in FY2014 to redevelop the proposed portions of land pending disposition approval as a mixed use development, which may include public housing and other residential, commercial, institutional, recreational and other land uses. CHA plans to bring back mixed-income housing, including public housing units, on remaining portions of the Ickes site.”

Originally, the Plan for Transformation was a five-year plan. Today, it’s supposed to be completed by 2015. That would mean the CHA would have to deliver a whopping 7,000 units by then to meet its 25,000 replacement unit goal.

Natalie Moore is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her @natalieymoore.