Roosevelt Square realities
All involved in this project should be realistic and address the community like adults, rather than posturing and saber rattling.
02/10/2010 10:00 PM
From 1998 through 2002 I served as executive director of the University Village Association. During that time I and many others were involved in the first discussions of how the ABLA public housing development would be transformed. I had the pleasure to work with ABLA leader Deverra Beverly, and great community institutions including UIC, the medical district and St. Ignatius College Prep, amongst others.
Years later, it’s very frustrating, as a community resident and as someone who was deeply involved in the Roosevelt Square discussions, to see what has become of the project and read about cavalier posturing (“Phasing it in slowly,” Feb. 4 Chicago Journal). The parties involved seem to have failed to acknowledge the economic reality that surrounds this development.
Simply put, the current economics of real estate development in Chicago for commercial, market priced or rental units make forecasting very difficult, as the absorption issues are still rather extreme.
First reality check: Chicago today has a 14.6 month standing inventory of housing. All signs point to no new development for the next two to three years at least, and that too depends greatly on developers’ willingness to take a chance with uncertain pricing, high inventory and the pulse of the overall economy. Lending has halted for all practical purposes. Job creation has slowed and recovery is still ahead of us. What this means, in short, is that neither market-rate nor rental could realistically be built at Roosevelt Square. There is no funding, market or basis to build it.
All involved in this project should be realistic and address the community like adults, rather than posturing and saber rattling. All sides — UVA, Related Midwest, the ABLA advisory council, major neighborhood institutions, CHA and, most importantly, the city and local aldermen — should respectfully convene a meeting. There, they could objectively assess the situation at Roosevelt Square, ascertain which promises are realistic and which ones are not, and then set a path for the future of the community and this development.
The time for blaming each other has to stop. In my opinion, to go on the same old path by indicating that buildings will be built “some day” ignores economic factors, the deep divisions and probable distrust among some of the stakeholders. To avoid transparent discussion with each other to find a shared solution puts at risk the greatest aspirations many of us had when we began working together on this project. To have no plan dooms the community to stagnation.
And what of the ABLA residents? I shudder to think what promises were made to them that were not kept. All of the groups involved in the future of ABLA and Taylor Street should be mindful of the agreements that were made to ABLA residents and the local advisory council. They should do their best to keep these agreements.
We know the efforts thus far, coupled with what is left in the wake of the economy and, after numerous delays, have resulted in a product not much different from where we were before. We still have a Taylor Street not contiguous from Racine to Loomis, with vacant lots where there should be businesses and residential units. This was never the goal. We have growing vacancies on a street that in recent history did not have those issues.
The vacancies (housing units, lots, storefronts) make the community less viable for business and residential relocation. This trend, in turn, reduces the attractiveness of the community as a route for the CTA, making marketing the neighborhood as a destination for our excellent restaurants and museum much more difficult. Should the trend continue, one can imagine an impact on rental and residential pricing.
There is hope. With the new census around the corner, community, business and civic leaders should stop pointing fingers, take advantage of the data that exists and that will be collected, and should prepare itself for the next cycle with a plan in hand to make the Near West Side the success it was meant to be. Our local institutions have long relied on my community being stable: for students, for patients and for businesses. The community and institutions should be using resources to focus on and squarely address the economic development and vacancy issues now.
I chose to raise my family here and call the Near West Side home. It’s a shared home with universities, hospitals, museums, restaurants and residents. Close to downtown, with great shopping and amenities, it is the community that should have been a “slam dunk” from the housing authority’s Plan for Transformation’s perspective.
With or without the plan’s success, the clock is ticking and doing nothing but playing a blame game should not be an option.
There is no time to delay.
Bernardoni is a longtime resident of the Near West Side.