CHA announces plans to redevelop Lathrop Homes

July 18, 2013

(Courtesy of the Chicago Housing Authority)
A rendering of what Lathrop Homes will look like over the next decade.

Lathrop Homes is a unique public housing development. It sits on the banks of the Chicago River. The historic low rises are close to the North Side neighborhood of Lincoln Park. Inside Lathrop apartments, the families represented racial and economic diversity.

But for several years the future of Lathrop dangled in limbo as the Chicago Housing Authority contemplated redevelopment. Now CHA has released a plan that will turn Lathrop into a mixed-income rental community with 1,208 units: 504 market rate, 212 affordable, 400 public housing and 92 senior units.

Residents and housing advocates have long implored that CHA not use a one-size-fits-all model at Lathrop, near Diversey/Damen/Clybourn. Instead of mixed income, they wanted housing for low-income and working families. CHA officials say that would’ve created an island of isolation, albeit one in the middle of a stable community.

“The concern we also had was that if you kept it all affordable or all public housing, it’s a very inwardly looking site. And I think one of the things we were cognizant about was breaking down barriers. And the best way to break down barriers are not just physical but integration on the site in terms of income levels. And we felt that is very important to ensure the long-term vibrancy and sustainability of the site,” said Michael Jasso, CHA’s chief development officer.

Lathrop’s overhaul over the next decade includes developing the riverfront for public use, retail and preserving the historic nature of the site. The number of public housing units coming back online are actually lower than what once existed on the footprint.

Currently, 150 families reside in Lathrop, but the property has 925 units. When CHA implemented the sweeping, billion-dollar Plan for Transformation -- the blueprint for remaking public housing into mixed-income communities -- there were 300-plus families living in Lathrop in 1999. They maintain a right to return to Lathrop.

Still, there’s an ideological rift about how to move Lathrop forward. Unlike South Side CHA properties that have been demolished, Lathrop doesn’t sit in a sea of surrounding poverty. Meanwhile, as the mixed-income model has been built throughout the city, CHA has had to adjust to an economic downturn and fickle housing tastes. Mixed income is a third market rate, a third affordable and a third public housing. That rigid one-third ratio has evolved as CHA has made adjustments on various sites in response to housing pressures. To wit, the Lathrop plan doesn’t call for any for-sale housing.

Curt Bailey is president of Related Midwest and one of the project developers.

“This is a great test for mixed income and can we make this successful here,” Bailey said.

But resident Titus Kerby, a laid-off construction worker, said “Lathrop is already integrated with the rest of the community. In my opinion, it’s a land grab. Lathrop residents feel it’s a land grab.”

Charles Hogren is a homeowner who’s lived across the street from Lathrop for 40 years. He became friends with many of the residents over the years. Hogren said he likes the idea of CHA opening up the riverfront but he’s opposed to the new residential housing mix.

“This should be completely for low income and affordable people and give affordable people [the chance] to buy. There’s no need for market-rate residents here. Market rate is all over the North Side,” Hogren said.

Lathrop was completed in 1938 with Modern and Classical Revival-inspired architecture. Noted architect Jens Jensen designed the landscape. It was one of the first developments commissioned by President Franklin Roosevelt's Public Works Administration.  In 2012, the National Register of Historic places put Lathrop on its list.

Redevelopment is expected to begin in 2015. On July 30th, CHA will host a resident meeting on the plan.

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