Stirring the public housing pot
Tweak in CHA's planning model could change course of upcoming developments
05/09/2012 10:00 PM
For the past 12 years, the Chicago Housing Authority has taken a uniform approach to the way it develops public housing.
Since the city’s earliest low-income developments sprouted in the first quarter of the 20th century, most of the families and individuals under the agency’s care resided in concentrated residential high-rises or bundled communities made up of two- to five-story buildings.
In Chicago and other major cities across the country, the model proved to be widely unsuccessful, as the segregated housing pockets cultivated an environment of violence and drug-related crime that was both hard to police and difficult to justify as the nation’s trials in public housing wore on.
The pitfalls of Chicago’s public housing layout were memorialized in a court-mandated desegregation order known as the Gatreaux consent decree.
Acknowledging these faults, CHA began dismantling and reworking its portfolio in the late 1990s, swapping out the infamous high-rises of Cabrini Green and the densely occupied ABLA Homes developments on the Near West Side for a new type of development that would include equal shares of public housing, affordable units and market-rate homes.
The “one-third” mold, touted under the agency’s now-decade spanning Plan for Transformation, has come to form CHA’s new generation of housing, with early iterations of the mixed-community model taking root in recent years at the Parkside of Old Town development, located on the site of former Cabrini developments, and at the ABLA collection’s successor, Roosevelt Square.
But that split may not be the end-all equation for public housing in Chicago.
At a recent public meeting held to discuss forthcoming construction plans by developer Related Midwest LLC for the Roosevelt Square project, CHA CEO Charles Woodyard reportedly spoke to the agency’s potential departure from the current mixed-income planning model.
According to a Crain’s Chicago Business article about the meeting, Woodyard, who took the top post in September, stated it was likely that “instead of having a blanket a third, a third, a third concept in place for all the transformation communities,” the agency would, in the future, “decide what the income mix needs to be community by community, and sometimes building by building.”
Woodyard’s statement could not have come at a better time for Related, as Crain’s reported that representatives from the firm at the meeting proposed a mix of 80 percent market-rate and 20 percent public housing for two of its upcoming rental buildings at the Roosevelt site.
Related President Curt Bailey did not respond to calls for comment for this story as of press time on Wednesday.
Woodyard’s sentiments regarding the agency’s planning tactics are not entirely out of the blue. Earlier this year, CHA announced plans to “recalibrate” the original Plan for Transformation, exploring “new tools and strategies for completing initial goals and planning” and “engaging a broad spectrum of stakeholders … to identify lessons learned as well as input to help shape the next phase of the Plan,” according to a statement from agency in late February.
The agency has since held four “resident input” sessions, in which CHA tenants offered suggestions on how to better implement future construction at the agency’s sites.
The reasoning behind the retooling is not entirely clear, though some have pointed to a social impasse between low-income neighbors and at-rate homeowners in the mixed developments.
If a shift in CHA planning policy were to occur, the site-by-site planning model could have significant ramifications for some of the agency’s impending projects.
Residents at the Julia C. Lathrop Homes, a 925-unit public housing complex in Hamlin Park, are currently awaiting CHA’s master plan for the redevelopment of the 75-year-old site. Tenant leadership there has called on the agency to keep market-rate construction out of the project — an appeal that could potentially be granted under Woodyard’s watch.
Also on deck for a makeover are the Frances Cabrini Rowhouses, one of the oldest public housing developments in the city. Though stopping short of laying out a mix for the 586-unit site, CHA last year told Cabrini stakeholders that the development would not be returned as 100 percent public housing.
Richard Wheelock is an attorney with the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, a firm that has provided legal representation for Cabrini residents for over a decade.
He said that the crux of Woodyard’s intentions — and the resulting effect on CHA’s upcoming projects — would depend on what kind of housing ratios the CEO had in mind.
“To the extent that a revisited income mix could result in more affordable and public housing units being brought back to [these sites] than would have been built under the “one-third” rule, that would be great,” said Wheelock. “But we’ll have to see what CHA really means by this.”