Fighting over the fate of the Lathrop Homes, one of the remaining public housing projects in Chicago

While Chicago’s public housing high-rises (like Cabrini-Green) have been torn down, there is a current debate about the fate of the Lathrop Homes:

Lathrop’s two-story row houses and three- and four-story walk-ups occupy 35 acres on the western edge of Lincoln Park, and are often noticed by passersby on Diversey owing to the thick, white plumes of steam that rise from ground vents like jets from primordial geysers—the result of aging heating pipes. When the 925-unit development opened in 1938, it was one of the first public housing developments in the country and only the second in Chicago, built by a dream team of architects for the Public Works Administration’s New Deal program. For 30 years it was one of four all-white public housing projects managed by the Chicago Housing Authority. When the first African-American families were finally allowed to move into Lathrop in the late 1960s, they were segregated in the buildings on the south side of Diversey. The project didn’t become the melting pot Suarez describes until the 1970s…

Though Lathrop was supposed to be rehabilitated—and to remain 100 percent public housing—the CHA’s position shifted over the years. In 2000 the CHA stopped accepting new residents (in anticipation of rehabbing the property), and each subsequent year families were encouraged to move out. The buildings were shuttered one by one as Lathrop shrank from 747 occupied units in 2000 to about 140 today.

In other words, at a time when affordable housing in Chicago was becoming more and more scarce, hundreds of low-rent apartments were sitting vacant in a prime neighborhood.

In 2006 the CHA announced that Lathrop would become a mixed-income community with 400 public housing units, 400 tax-credit-subsidized units, and 400 market-rate ones. Demolition was scheduled for 2009.

But the housing market collapse, the recession, and persistent leadership turnover at the CHA has stalled those plans. To this day, not a single one of Lathrop’s 30 buildings has been demolished.

Interesting read about a project that is on the National Register of Historic Places and doesn’t get much attention despite some unique features. The story of the slow-moving CTA is not unusual; that has been the story for decades and it is understandable why residents aren’t always optimistic about better outcomes.

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