Phasing it in slowly
Roosevelt Square, meant to replace ABLA, stalls
02/03/2010 10:00 PM
The blocks on either side of Roosevelt Road, south of the University of Illinois-Chicago campus, are a mix of new residential buildings, rehabbed public housing units and more than a few empty lots.
When those vacant parcels will get filled in isn’t exactly clear.
Roosevelt Square, the development meant to replace the ABLA public housing development, has been buffeted by the real estate market swoon that’s made building new, for-sale homes next to impossible to justify.
That, in turn, has slowed the construction of the mixed-income community Roosevelt Square is envisioned to become.
More than 10 years after the Chicago Housing Authority started its Plan for Transformation to create mixed-income communities, 32 percent of replacement public housing units at Roosevelt Square have been built, according to court filings.
Bill Little, the director of development at CHA, said that public housing residents promised replacement housing at Roosevelt Square have other options, such as vouchers that support their rents in the private housing market.
“It is not as if families are not housed,” he said.
Even lower percentages of Roosevelt Square’s market-rate units and affordably priced homes and rental are up. Six phases will see the eventual construction of 2,443 units.
Phase 1 at Roosevelt Square, both rental and for-sale, is complete. Phase 2 rental is also up. But the second round of for-sale building has stalled: 245 for-sale units remain on the drawing board.
Mike Kelly, the director of marketing for Related Midwest, the property development firm charged with building Roosevelt Square, said the firm is shooting to start building a cluster, around 50, of for-sale units by the summer, delivering them to buyers by late 2011.
Demand, by then, should have picked up, Kelly said. That timeline remains a goal, however, rather than a plan ready to go.
“There’s nothing definite in real estate right now,” Kelly said.
Roosevelt Square, Kelly argued, was relatively better off in comparison to other housing authority rehabs.
“We’ve been sold out here for a long time,” he said, referring to the first phase of building.
Elsewhere, the city of Chicago has recently taken steps to support the developers involved in the Plan for Transformation.
At both Cabrini-Green and the Lake Park Crescent public housing development, in the Kenwood-Oakland neighborhood, the city provided tax increment financing subsidies to developers remaking those neighborhoods earlier than when had been expected, Crain’s Chicago Business reported last month. At Cabrini, the city money helped the developer stave off default on a construction loan.
Other developers involved in the Plan for Transformation have moved away from building for-sale units. At Rockwell Gardens, where public housing high rises once dominated the blocks northwest of Jackson and Western, East Lake Management is building a new round of rentals despite not having built all of the for-sale units required in the first phase there.
The rental push then sparked contentious exchanges last year between public housing residents and newer homeowners in the area, who blasted East Lake’s tack.
After two community meetings and a raft of new commitments from East Lake, Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd) signed off on the zoning change East Lake needed to go ahead with the rental phase.
Representatives from East Lake said they would build for-sale units again when the real estate market improved.
Related Midwest is beginning to eye the future rental at Roosevelt Square.
Late last year, the Habitat Company, which oversees all housing authority development in accordance with a consent decree, filed a report in federal court that said Related had “initiated the planning efforts for Phase 3” at the development.
Kelly promised Related would not start a new rental phase before finishing the for-sale aspect.
Little, from CHA, also said there would be no new rental until Phase 2 was complete.
“We want to make sure we have the right balance of for sale and rental, and so we’re very conscious not to get too far out with the rental product,” he said, rejecting a comparison with the Rockwell situation.
Still, some nearby residents observing Roosevelt Square’s progress are wary of the Related Midwest’s intentions and are lobbying to guarantee the firm doesn’t build additional rental without first completing for-sale units.
In a Dec. 11 letter to Fioretti, Oscar D’Angelo, the powerful so-called “Mayor of Little Italy,” asked the alderman to deny Related “any additional permits or consents from you or your office vis-à-vis Phase III.
“Only when they comply with all of the terms and conditions of Phase II will they be legally entitled to move forward with Phase III,” reads the letter, a copy of which was included in the public documents binder at the January meeting of the Illinois Medical District board.
D’Angelo was traveling and could not be reached for comment.
University Village Association executive director Dennis O’Neill agreed with the sentiments of D’Angelo, an executive board member of the organization.
“Right now, Roosevelt Square is not working,” O’Neill said. “So we need to get, I believe, some more market-rate housing in there to stabilize things.”
Kelly is aware of UVA’s critique.
“We’ve worked with the UVA ... We’re always open to hear their criticisms,” he said.
Fioretti did not return a call seeking comment.