Activists call on city to stop public housing demolitions

Chicago Housing Authority proposes tearing down 1,800 units.

October 3, 2012

Download Story
(WBEZ/Natalie Moore)
Activists deployed signs at Wednesday's protest to stop CHA's demolition plans.

The Chicago Housing Authority has a proposal that would demolish 1,800 apartments, a move that an umbrella group called the Chicago Housing Initiative demonstrated against Wednesday morning.

The activists say CHA needs to increase and preserve public housing.

“I just feel so strongly that CHA has left too many units vacant for far too long and they’re just too many people on the waiting list ...waiting for affordable housing, public housing. CHA is just kind of dragging its heels,” said activist Jessie Avraham.

CHA CEO Charles Woodyard said he agrees there’s a need for low-income housing. But he parts ways with the activists over how to address the issue.

“I think it’s shortsighted to spend millions of dollars for a temporary solution to a very long-term problem,” Woodyard said. “If stakeholders and the general public can be more patient with the housing authority, what they’ll see over the next few years is a concerted effort to develop comprehensive communities that are assets.”

Three public housing developments are at the center of the demolition plan and an outcry over it: Altgeld Gardens, Lathrop Homes and Cabrini Rowhouses.

More than 600 units at Altgeld Gardens, a development on the far South Side, would be demolished. Woodyard says a concentration of low-income families is bad public policy. There are 1,200 units there now and he doesn’t want that number to swell to 2,000. He says CHA doesn’t have the capacity to provide the needed support services for families.

At the Cabrini development on the city’s near North Side, a CHA assessment concluded that the rowhouses there should not be 100 percent public housing. Those apartments are within the mixed-income housing footprint at Cabrini.

Finally, Lathrop Homes — also on the North Side — caused friction between residents and CHA. Residents want the housing to remain for low-income, working families. Woodyard calls the development, which has been 100 percent public housing, “isolated.” When asked if Lathrop could remain low-income and affordable, Woodyard said he didn’t want to rule anything out but wants the real estate and demographic studies to determine the mix of housing.

Here’s what Woodyard had to say about each of those developments.

Altgeld Gardens: "Number one — the community is on the far South Side of Chicago, very isolated, transportation is limited out there, commercial access, recreational access and retail … basic shopping amenities are lacking for Altgeld. It’s not the type of community I believe has long-term sustainability. We’ve got to invest in some other components of community building to make that happen. We need to involve stakeholders (residents) to look at a vision for Altgeld. When I first got to Chicago, I had been on the job for a week or so and there were four murders in the Altgeld area.”

Cabrini Rowhouses: “We’re going to work with the Cabrini working group and jointly with the CHA board to come up with a recommendation for the next few months. I don’t think the rowhomes would ever be completely occupied by public housing residents.

Lathrop Homes: “I want Lathrop to be true to the working group process. My goal for Lathrop is to become a community that is integrated with Logan Square and Lincoln Park. My goals for that community are to mix the income but still keep a substantial number of low-income families there. We’ll be looking at if a third, a third a third is the right mix. We want to take advantage of the riverfront for that community. It wasn’t like the residents of Lathrop were interfacing with the residents of the rest of the community. I think it’s wrong to think that building a 100-percent community that’s for low-income families — even in a more affluent area like Lincoln Park — is the way to go. Experience tells us that does not work. But I don’t think we need to reduce the number of public housing units in that area. I do think we need to have the same number, if not more, number of low-income units we can spread in the general area along Logan Square and Lincoln Park.”