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More market-rate homes proposed at CHA's Lathrop site

The Chicago Housing Authority’s three scenarios for redeveloping the Lathrop Homes would add more market-rate homes to the complex. (Heather Charles, Chicago Tribune / December 15, 2011)

Miguel Suarez and his family found an affordable refuge in the historic Lathrop Homes, among an eclectic mix of neighbors who encouraged him as he went back to school.

But under the Chicago Housing Authority's latest proposals for remaking the sprawling housing complex he's called home for more than 20 years, more of Suarez's neighbors would be private homeowners, paying market rate for the prime location.

With its development group, the Lathrop Community Partners, the CHA has at community meetings presented three scenarios for remaking the troubled Lathrop Homes complex. All three proposals would increase the share of market-rate apartments from one-third to one-half, reserving only a quarter of the development for public housing residents, the drawings show.

All three proposals include 400 units of public housing and affordable housing, the same number the CHA proposed when it began planning Lathrop's overhaul. But instead of constructing 1,200 apartments, as originally proposed, Lathrop Community Partners wants to build a complex with 1,600 residential units, with 800 of those sold at market rate.

Suarez is one of dozens of residents concerned that the CHA's plans could change the diversity of the community.

"Chicago has a need for public housing and (poor) people need a place to live," Suarez said, his voice rising slightly with frustration. "Lathrop Homes is already situated near enough market-rate housing. Lathrop is already a great community. It's located in one of the most desirable areas and everybody wants it."

Community activists and current Lathrop residents oppose the plan, which deviates from the CHA's typical mixed-income community formula, in which only one-third of the housing has been devoted to market-rate housing. In fact, some activists don't want the agency to offer market-rate apartments at all.

Opponents like Suarez worry that market-rate apartments will flood their community with more higher-income residents, diluting the presence of public housing residents and remaking the face of the neighborhood.

The CHA has held community meetings about the proposals over the past year and recently released a report on a survey of residents' attitudes toward the redevelopment.

One proposal, the Riverworks plan, would reuse some of the historic buildings and add two residential high-rise towers. The Gateways plan would use some of the historic buildings and add one high-rise. And the Greenscapes plan would feature more low-rise and midrise buildings and create a park on the site.

The majority of the 258 respondents favored restoring the current buildings or reusing most of them, according to the agency. Residents in the area expressed concern about the height of the proposed buildings, and they opposed dramatically increasing the number of apartments, the CHA's report shows.

Suarez, one of more than 350 North Side residents who went to the public meetings, left unsatisfied.

"From day one the community has not been included in the process. It's an insult," he said.

But CHA officials defend the process, saying these proposals are just the latest step in an ongoing effort to determine the future of the Lathrop Homes property.

"The key point that we want the public to understand is there is nothing set in stone," said Wendy Parks, a spokeswoman for the CHA. "We're listening to the community and we're receiving feedback from a wide variety of people."

While CHA officials say there is no set date for construction, they plan to use community feedback from the surveys to adjust the proposed concepts. Then there will be another round of meetings with stakeholders, officials said.

For more than a decade, the CHA has planned to transform Lathrop Homes into a mixed-income development. The project is a part of the agency's ongoing mission to replace public housing complexes with mixed communities, where poor residents live side by side with more prosperous homeowners and stakeholders. Chicago's transformation of public housing is years behind schedule.

Situated on the borders of Bucktown and Roscoe Village, Lathrop is surrounded by expensive homes and upscale shopping outlets. The bulk of the complex currently sits vacant while the CHA decides the site's fate. While there are 925 units on the site, only about 170 are occupied.

For Lathrop residents and their neighbors, the process of determining what will be constructed on the site has been an emotional ride, filled with sudden changes, complicated meetings and technical jargon. There is no final master plan yet.

Residents worry that the new development would destroy the historic buildings, built in the 1930s, push out poor residents and add congestion to the area, said John McDermott, a housing and land use director with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The entire process of transforming public housing has created a tense relationship among the CHA, the residents it serves and the surrounding neighborhoods.

"The pattern CHA works in — leaving things in the air, making promises, then breaking them, letting developments empty out, then bringing in a developer that needs to make a profit — we're extremely frustrated," McDermott said.

Keywords: CHA, Chicago Housing Authority, Lathrop Community Partners, Lathrop Homes, Public housing

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