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Group protests number of low-income units in planned Lathrop redevelopment

Buildings of the Lathrop Homes in the 2000 block of West Diversey Avenue, have few residents. Shown Tuesday, Feb., 2, 2016. (Abel Uribe / Chicago Tribune)

Dawn RhodesContact ReporterChicago Tribune

Community housing advocates and religious leaders staged a sit-in Sunday afternoon at the Julia Lathrop Homes to protest a redevelopment project that will eliminate hundreds of low-income units at the historic public housing project.

Groups that included the Chicago Housing Initiative, the Logan Square Neighborhood Association and leaders from several churches rallied at the Lathrop complex at West Diversey Parkway and North Clybourn Avenue intent on occupying the space for 24 hours to illustrate the city's lack of affordable housing for poorer residents. Despite a waiting list for Chicago Housing Authority housing, hundreds of Lathrop apartments have been left unoccupied on the crumbling site for years.

Around 2 p.m., a small group of demonstrators entered a vacant unit on Diversey, symbolically taking over the space for a woman who said she has been on the CHA wait list for 20 years.

The remaining demonstrators pledged to camp outside the unit for 24 hours or until they got a meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Despite having delivered petitions to the mayor's office, members of the neighborhood association said they have been unsuccessful in getting a meeting with the mayor and other officials tied to the project.

The woman on the wait list, Laura Donaldson, 47, uses a wheelchair and lives with her daughter in a South Loop shelter. She said the CHA routinely neglects to provide housing for people with disabilities.

The latest plan for the redevelopment of Lathrop Homes includes about 1,100 apartments as well as 11 acres of green space.

"We want our own homes," Donaldson said, wrapped in an orange scarf and dark coat to protect from the chilly air blowing inside. "I want to find my own place so I can go back to school and do what I want to do, which is teach. I can't do that if I have to worry about shelter.

"They want to push us out to the suburbs. I don't want to go to the suburbs. I want to live in the city I grew up in."

About 50 people joined the demonstration, and many carried palm branches in commemoration of Palm Sunday.

"As Christians, we believe housing is a human right," said the Rev. Drew Rindfleisch, of San Lucas United Church of Christ in Humboldt Park. "There seems to be this righteousness, like, 'Why don't they get a job?' We say, 'Why don't we just house these people?'"

Lathrop Homes, which was built in 1938, was designed by a prominent team that included architect Hubert Burnham and landscape architect Jens Jensen. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

A development plan advanced by the city's Plan Commission in February calls for a mixed-income development with more than 1,100 total units, setting aside 400 for public housing, 222 for low-income working families and nearly 500 for market-rate tenants. Nineteen of the 31 buildings would get interior rehabs with modern amenities while the exteriors would be restored to their Depression-era design. New construction would adhere to the original aesthetic of the complex.

The housing authority hired Related Midwest, Bickerdike Redevelopment Corp. and Heartland Housing Inc. to overhaul the site.

The proposal, critics point out, eliminates 525 public housing units from the site. Lathrop now has 925 subsidized apartments, however all but 150 of those units sit empty.

Community leaders have said city officials, including Ald. Proco "Joe" Moreno, reneged on a pledge to maintain public housing options on the North Side and have endorsed a plan that pushes full-scale gentrification of the area.

Moreno, whose 1st Ward includes Lathrop, has rejected the suggestion that he did not ensure CHA would commit to replacing the lost public housing units. Moreno pointed to a letter from Eugene Jones, CEO of the housing authority, written shortly before the proposal was presented to the Plan Commission.

"CHA is committed to producing 525 new housing opportunities, in general and opportunity areas in the North Side of the city, understanding that the timing will be based on the availability and price of properties, which must be in accordance with existing law," Jones wrote Feb. 17.

That isn't enough for the community members, who said CHA has yet to detail when and where those units would be constructed.

Opponents of the redevelopment long have criticized the CHA for failing to rehabilitate or rent hundreds of units vacated by former residents who used private vouchers to move to private housing. They say the units could be used to house people in need, but instead much of the complex is boarded up.

"It's a shame and a disgrace that the city — with all of these empty units and such a long waiting list of families that need housing — they do so little about it," said Miguel Suarez, 65, who has lived at Lathrop Homes for nearly three decades. "With all of the market-rate housing surrounding us, there's really no need for mixed-income housing."

"Whether it's here, Lincoln Park, Wicker Park or Humboldt Park, (developers) just further displace low-income and vulnerable residents," Rindfleisch said.

Posted in Lathrop, Noticias, 606 Bloomingdale Trail, Affordable Housing, Noticias Anteriores